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July 20, 2007
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Observations from the NBTA convention

Last week’s NBTA’s annual convention was billed as the biggest and most successful travel management conference ever. A common question I was asked while roaming the tradeshow floor, “What do you believe was the hot topic at this year’s conference?”. My response was simplly stated “nothing really new here”. In reality I believe more was left unsaid then presented in any particular seminar or general session. For example, Sam Gilliland, CEO of Sabre, presented a panel of ex-airline execs who chatted with Peter Greenberg. I really wanted to know what the private equity buyout of Sabre means to the industry not to mention the Travelport acquition by Blackstone and the recent IPO by Orbitz. Instead the two airline executives talked about the need for high speed rail for the NorthEast corridor (DOH!). A familiar theme in Sam’s introduction speech was “you the corporate travel manager, really controls the industry”, but is this really true?

Perhaps the problem with this conference is that the position of corporate travel manager is a moving target. This week, I have been updating my NBTA database from 2004 and I immediately noticed about a 70% turnover in names just for the letters A and B! Could it be that the coveted target of the suppliers at the conference is a moving one? Is the position of travel manager a long term career? My apologies to my friends and colleagues who have been in their role for many years, but the reality of the market is that at an average company a new travel manager emerges after about 4-5 years. Why is this? Corporate travel management is not a core competency of any organization (except TMCs that is). There is little room to advance in the position other than adding more commodities to the role if the the CTM is in procurement (as many are moving towards) or moving to other positions in the company. So if I were to conservatively estimate that 50% of all travel managers turnover in a 5 year period, marketing to these individuals becomes a constant re-education effort. No wonder the conference lacks innovation, there are so many newcomers to the position every year, it is nearly impossible to move to start a more forward thinking dialogue.