Navigating the Wonderful World of Corporate Travel: The Advice I Wish I Had Received Eight Years Ago

As promised, here is the second blog posting in our series from the finalists from the GBTA Ladders Program.  Great Advice!  Thank you, Damar!

I’m sure you figured out from the title that I have been part of the corporate travel industry for almost eight years now.  I had the privilege of spending the first seven with GDSX and the last year with Concur by way of acquisition.  Over time I’ve had the opportunity to consider lessons learned and would like to share that guidance with you.

Go to Our “Super Bowl”

This is really not an exaggeration — the annual GBTA convention is the pivotal event for the corporate travel industry every year.  Every major and minor player is in attendance, and you can guarantee that some of the richest information is shared over the convention’s four-day run.  Whether through press releases, education sessions, in-depth exhibition floor discussions, or late-night chats in hotel bars, you can gain a wealth of knowledge.  Add to that your ability to network and rekindle past friendships, and the convention is well worth the cost.  The downside: It’s a massive event.  Plan your time carefully.  Figure out whom to see and make an appointment.  Strategically choose the parties you will attend and be sure to thank the hosts.  But most of all — have fun!  (Caution: If you are working a booth on the exhibition floor you may need to limit your “fun” a bit more than those who are not.  Discussing the benefits of your product offering may not be as impactful if you are exhausted and functioning on too little sleep.)

Who You Know Is as Important as What You Know

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “This is an incestuous industry. . . .”

However, it is true.  I have seen that once you go through the experience of learning the intricacies of corporate travel — as an agent, automation expert, ops manager, etc. — you have a valuable skill set.  Most people are smart enough to stick around and offer their assets to another company that could benefit from them rather than start over in a new industry.

Knowing that, you have to be darn sure you manage your reputation. Don’t burn any bridges!  We are so interconnected that it is standard procedure for someone to call up their old friend — and your previous coworker — and ask what type of employee you were.  The former competitor that you were locked in a bitter rivalry with may someday be your colleague!  (Shout out to my new friends from TRX.)

Network at every opportunity and make sure you add your new contacts to LinkedIn — it will help you connect the dots to others you need to know.  Always, always, always know who you are talking to; it is no fun to find out the lady you just offended by your off-color joke is the one who will make the buying decision on your software.

Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow

Learn as much as you can as fast as you can.  Go to your local Business Travel Association chapter meetings. Keep up with industry news, attend webinars, and check into industry certifications such as the CMM or GLP. Take the opportunity to pick the brain of the person  down the hall who’s been around the block a couple times. .  But don’t stop with what the present state of the industry is; figure out how to shape its future.  Even if you don’t agree with them, follow the blogs or posts of those people who like to stir the pot: Craig Fichtelberg, Scott Gillespie, and Miriam Moscovici, to name a few.  They will get you thinking in new and different directions.

Pay attention to the startups in the industry.  It is fascinating to know that industry veteran Steve Reynolds and a relative newcomer like Evan Konwiser both have made significant contributions to our industry over the past few years.  Realize that niche opportunities exist and are waiting for savvy businesspeople to seize them.

Take every chance to recruit people from outside the corporate travel ecosystem.  Fresh blood means fresh ideas; our industry will benefit from the diversified experiences.  Our success and ability to adapt is directly proportional to the diversity of our people.

Be True to Yourself

I want to leave you with one last bit of advice.  Find your purpose and never compromise your core values.  At the end of the day that will determine your peace and happiness, and our whole industry will be better for it.

Good luck!

Damar Christopher is a Director of Client Services for Concur | TMC Services