Running an effective meetings department is not just about the negotiation, it’s also about the relationships and communication.
Senior meeting professionals are often referred to as industry experts. As a veteran meeting professional I don’t rely on my experience alone, rather my relationships that I’ve nurtured these past 25+ years.
While reviewing budgets for our recurring meetings, I realized that there was a significant increase in travel costs in the past nine years. Industry costs (especially travel) and meeting budgets are not increasing at a fixed ratio and it’s been challenging to get approval for a larger budget especially for an event that is duplicated each year.
The challenge – Create a strategy to implement some short-term cost savings as well as define some of the strategies that can be implemented in the longer term. The crucial priority wasn’t the costs I cut, rather where I could focus resources to assist with the overall meeting strategy. I have built a strong relationship with our travel company over the years and reached out to them to help me design a strategy to reduce travel costs. The travel team was excited to help with this project as they often get this question from many of their clients and this was their opportunity to offer input and formulate a strategy directly with a client. This strategic partnership benefits both parties as higher travel costs often lead to a reduced number of meetings held each year.
The planning – Create a strategy that helps the group conquer the issues of rising travel costs. To assist in creating this plan, the Travel team and I pulled our resources and brought together a group of internal meeting professionals and travel agents for a strategic planning session. Having this group of individuals, who understand the industry and market costs, working together towards a common goal was impactful. Together, we created a template which would benefit other clients and groups.
The solution - The best fit for my event was to take the the ability to book travel away from the traveler and put it back into the hands of the Travel Department. Our internal system offers the most compliant flight to the traveler and gives them the option to pick an alternate flight if the flight costs are not more than $100 from the original flight. Do the math! $100 x 150 travelers = $15,000 of travel costs that could be avoided.
As this was an internal meeting, I realized that the risk of push back from the traveler was low compared to the reward of saving the company as significant amount of money. A model that was supported by the stakeholders for this meeting.
The second challenge was how to communicate our plan to the employee/traveler in a positive way. As part of our initial communications to the travelers we stated our expected travel dates and included the following statement “Due to changes in the airline industry, limited flight availability, and our company-wide efforts to control costs, the Travel Department will book your flights for you.”
Event professionals need to take a harder look at their travel costs. Corporations are no longer getting the group rates from the airlines and rarely receive discounts on air travel. By us directing this group’s travel, we reduced our travel costs for the event by over $37K from previous years.
In addition to the savings in air travel, we also reduced costs for ground transportation and meals. We could book airport transfers in a tighter window and reduced ground transportation costs by 30% and eliminated having to pay additional meals for travelers opting to take later flights.
Managing a successful meetings department includes maintaining efficient budgets. The way to make this work is to think strategically and use your resources to achieve your goals.
Ann M. Luketic, CMP
Progressive Property & Casualty Insurance Company
FICP Education Committee