FCM UK’s Head of Sales, Graham Ross, reports on the ITM annual conference and why we should all support events in the business travel calendar
I am passionate about the business travel industry and have been fortunate to attend numerous conferences organised by key industry bodies in recent years.
At the start of May, I was privileged to be among the 400 delegates, made up of buyers, procurement managers, TMCs and suppliers who attended the Institute of Travel Management’s annual conference. We all enjoyed a two-day programme of business sessions, workshops and social gatherings with the theme ‘The journey to 2020’.
It reminded me how important events like this are in the business travel calendar in terms of personal and professional development. However, it also struck me that these events can’t happen without the support of sponsorship from TMCs like FCM and other suppliers, and of course the people setting aside the time to attend, learn and engage in conversation.
For the last few years FCM has invested heavily in supporting our industry’s events - in fact in 2017 alone we will sponsor over 20 events throughout the calendar year.
FCM was a Gold Sponsor at the ITM Conference. We also took part in one of the business sessions ‘Service Please’; plus our new chatbot innovation Sam:] received a huge endorsement in the opening plenary; and FCM also sponsored an inspirational keynote address from Sir John Sawers, former Head of MI6, in the closing seminar.
In September, we will again be the headline sponsor at the BTIQ London Business Travel Summit, a one-day conference for 125 UK travel buyers and thought leaders. We will also return to exhibit at The Business Travel Conference, a busy two-days of interactive workshops and sessions for experienced buyers as well as newcomers to travel management.
Why does FCM invest so much time, effort and money in supporting these events? Of course, primarily to raise awareness of our brand and service offering. However, it’s not just about marketing; these events are vital for the whole business travel industry and corporate buyer community. Here are five reasons why it pays to invest:
1. Education: A great deal of planning by business travel experts goes into putting together the conference programme to ensure the content is informative, interesting, unbiased and relevant. As a result these sessions are extremely educational and you can guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know before. Some events, such as ITM, also offer accreditation and qualifications that count towards hours needed for personal development.
2. Network: How often do you get the opportunity to sit in the same room as your clients, peers, prospects, competitors and industry experts? These conferences are unique in that they bring together the whole spectrum of the business travel industry in one place - this gives you exceptional opportunities to network during coffee and tea breaks, benchmark your business, and keep your finger on the pulse. A varied programme means that there is plenty of opportunity to interact with other delegates, stimulating debate and enlightening conversations that will give you useful insights to take back to your own business.
3. Innovation: When it comes to technology, the pace of evolution in our industry is relentless – how can you keep up? What about NDC – do you understand the challenges and opportunities? These conferences always include sessions covering the latest technology trends - at ITM, we had the opportunity to introduce delegates to FCM’s latest chatbot tool ‘Sam’ during a breakout session exploring the ever-growing range of customer service options. Additionally, these events also feature sessions giving you advice on how to tackle current challenges in risk management, payment and traveller friction.
4. Return on Investment: Structure your attendance and work out what it means to your business. It shouldn’t be hard to calculate a clear ROI and achieve it. Expanding your network while also promoting your brand and offering can only lead to more opportunity to achieve your personal and company objectives whether you are a buyer or supplier. In my own role the ROI is measured by new business and we are currently enjoying outstanding growth with a clear ROI link to many of these conferences and events.
5. Fun: Most conferences involve an evening dinner or drinks event, especially in the travel sector. This provides an excellent opportunity to build relationships in a more informal setting. You can discuss some work related topics over dinner, celebrate colleagues and friends success at an awards night or dance the night away at the silent disco.
Even if your company doesn’t have major marketing funds, there are a whole range of sponsorship package opportunities – from covering the cost of a coffee break, to an individual keynote session. And if you can’t stretch to any form of sponsorship, then simply make sure you attend. It’s equally important to support these events with your presence.
One last note for suppliers, don’t just send your sales people! I had an interesting conversation with Mark Cuschieri, ITM’s Vice Chair, at the gala dinner about the importance of FCM’s Head of Account Management also attending the conference, as we had many existing clients among the delegates. Mark referenced this during the closing session as a sign of the ITM conference’s success. In reality for me, his remarks were an affirmation that FCM is doing the right thing by investing in our industry’s many varied and exceptional events.