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I was invited to speak at the Wisconsin Business Travel Association’s Education Day in early January, just as the polar vortex was engulfing 26 states in wind-chill warnings or watches. Wisconsin, of course, is a state known for its cold weather; it was in the low teens when I arrived, and the wind chill made it feel well below zero.
Icebergs in Wisconsin
The WBTA’s Education Day was taking place about an hour north of Milwaukee in Kohler. As the name suggests, the village of Kohler is named for the plumbing and bath manufacturer. The meeting was at The American Club, which once provided housing, meals, and recreational facilities for immigrant employees of Kohler who could not afford housing. The American Club presents a very striking first impression with its Tudor architecture, soaring roof peaks, and slate tile. The setting was beautiful -- and warm.
Door at the American Club
I arrived and met with my gracious hosts: Emily Wright and Jesse Funk. We gathered for a group reception where I was able to connect with new people and reconnected with many in my professional network– a great way to end a ‘very long travel day.’
Jesse Funk, me and Emily Wright
I initially wasn’t planning on staying for the whole session, but soon realized I needed to make some schedule adjustments to allow me to stay for the whole day and I am so happy that I did. I heard from many wonderful volunteers on subjects ranging from airport updates and professional growth opportunities to trends in managed travel.
As you know from many of my other postings and communications, volunteerism is something close to my heart. As GBTA’s President, I am trying to understand volunteering from many perspectives —not only how to recruit and retain volunteers, but also factors that cause volunteers to disengage. GBTA is one of many organizations that regularly involves and depends on its volunteers; to be most effective, we need to understand how best to support those individuals.
So much of what we talk about in travel management is the logistics of getting from point A to point B in a safe and cost efficient manner, when travel is ultimately about meeting new people and seeing what impact they will have on our lives and what impact we will have on theirs. I say that because I have had so many wonderful experiences when I have traveled, and Wisconsin was no exception. While I was grabbing dinner at the airport, there was a gate change. There was one young man, an off-duty military man sitting by himself reading a book in the original (agent-less) gate area. I asked if there was a gate change, but he said he didn’t know. I told him to come with me, as he said he didn’t travel much. We checked the monitors and headed to our new gate. On the way to the new gate, he told me that he was traveling to DC as a bone marrow donor. We got to the gate just as they announced the final boarding call. His assigned seat was next to me on the plane, so we were able to talk about his military experience and travels around the world on deployments. It was a moment like many others I have experienced in my travels. The encounter with Matt at the gate in Milwaukee was meant to be and this great American hero is now a bone marrow donor doing what soldiers do – giving of themselves.
This was supposed to be a quick trip to Wisconsin. I was planning on speaking and then returning to DC right after. But instead I extended my trip so I could attend the full day session. In doing so, I met wonderful people, learned a few new things, and was in the right place at the right time to help an off-duty military man catch his flight to be a bone marrow donor. I believe this is the essence of business travel: the opportunity for both planned and spontaneous meetings that have both professional and personal benefits.
We met last week with Representative Gus Bilirakis (R) from Florida’s 12th District, who represents the fast-growing Tampa Bay region of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Recently, Rep. Bilirakis joined Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) to co-chair the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, which includes a bi-partisan group of over 90 Congressmen.
The good news is that we have had a very good relationship with the House Travel and Tourism Caucus over the years.
Congressman Bilirakis in action. (photo from his flickr photostream)
The even better news is that in his new role, Rep. Bilirakis has pledged to do more. Rep. Bilirakis was first elected in 2006 and has been working to drive his legislative agenda, including support of business travel, Florida tourism, and for Greek-American relations. He is also an avid baseball fan (think Spring Training sites!) and is married with four children.
We shared the latest BTI forecast and made plans for future collaboration. We are happy to count Rep. Bilirakis as another champion of business travel!
We released our latest U.S. quarterly forecast last week and it is filled with positive news! Business travel spending finished out 2013 with better than expected growth and is poised for even greater growth in 2014.
There has been a great deal of media interest in this report and I found many reporters asking me the question, “why is business travel so important to business success?” The answer is easy really – business travel drives business growth. When companies are able to invest in the future, success follows.
Our GBTA BTI™ Outlook – United States Q4 report showed international outbound travel to be a major driver of the overall spending growth. This should come as no surprise. During the recession when companies couldn’t find opportunities locally, they looked globally to push along their economic recovery.
The report shows U.S. business travel spending is expected to grow 6.6 percent to $289.8 billion in 2014. It also appears our elected officials have finally gotten the message that political uncertainty and brinksmanship stifles economic growth, and if it stays that way, we should be looking at a very healthy year for U.S. business travel.
Is this good news for the economy overall? Absolutely. I’ve already talked about business travel driving business growth, but an increase in business travel spend is also a leading indicator of job growth. In addition, the report showed the healthiest growth outlook for meeting activity since 2011. Meetings are typically larger investments that require advance planning, and companies only make these decisions when they have confidence in the longer term outlook for the economy.
For more on the latest BTI report, check out a sampling of the coverage by CNBC and USAToday pulled by our PR team:
Amy Langfield of CNBC writes:
Optimistic the economy will continue to improve, U.S. business travel spending is expected to climb more than earlier forecasts, boosted by an increase in outbound international travel, mainly to Western Europe.
The new Global Business Travel Association quarterly report, released Wednesday, predicts U.S. business travel spending will rise 6.6 percent to $289.8 billion in 2014, up from a 3.8 percent growth rate in 2013. Looking at just international travel spending, the increase is expected to hit 12.5 percent (to $36.7 billion), which followed a 1.8 percent growth rate in 2013 and a mere 0.8 percent rise in 2012.
“International outbound travel is the driver” of the increase, Mike McCormick, the executive director and chief operating officer of the association told CNBC in an interview Tuesday. And because an international traveler tends to spend more on airfare and hotels, on a per-person rate, overall spending goes up.
Overall, the number of business trips will increase, even domestically, but still with an eye on the cost. The uptick in spending doesn’t so much mean a loosening in terms of travel policies, but a willingness to invest in putting more people on the road, McCormick said.
And although spending on business travel is starting to increase, it’s far from a return to three martini lunches and a surf and turf with the clients. “We may not see that again in our lifetime,” he said. “We may have to save that for the ‘Mad Men.’ ”
The full report, the “GBTA BTI™ Outlook – United States 2013 Q4,” comes with a caveat. “If our elected officials have finally gotten the message that political uncertainty and brinksmanship stifles economic growth, we should be looking at a very healthy year for U.S. business travel,” McCormick said in a statement issued with the report.
“Airports and hotels will be busy as American companies gain confidence and invest in travel to drive growth. And because business travel is a leading indicator of employment, this news is also another positive sign for the labor market.”
The longer-term optimistic view is reflected in the strengthening of bookings for group travel, which usually entails a longer lead time. While this sector has been rising for two years, the GBTA now expects group travel spending to rise by 6.5 percent in 2014 to $124.5 billion, with a volume increase of 1.7 percent.
USA Today’s Nancy Trejos reported:
Companies will spend more money on business travel this year, with a renewed focus on foreign destinations, according to a new report out today.
There was stronger-than-expected growth in business travel in 2013. That momentum should continue throughout this year, projects the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), a trade group for business travel managers.
U.S. business travel spending will jump 6.6% to $289.8 billion in 2014, the group predicts. The total number of trips should also increase, by 1.7%, to 461 million.
Spending on travel from the U.S. to other nations should climb 12.5% this year to $36.7 billion, the first time there’s been double-digit growth in years.
Michael McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the GBTA, says the improving economy is encouraging companies to spend more to send their employees off site.
“Companies are certainly feeling more confident that they will make a return on their investment and get results for the bottom line,” he says.
Business travel spending dropped significantly during the recession as companies saw their profits drop. It hit bottom in 2009 and has slowly started picking up since.
The GBTA is estimating that business travel spending grew 3.8% to $272 billion last year. There was, however, a 0.3% decline in the number of trips to 453.3 million.
Many companies are now asking their employees to try to use one trip to accomplish multiple tasks when in the past, they might have spread it out over two trips.
At the same time, they’re sending employees to foreign countries more often than they have in years. While Brazil, Russia, India and China continue to attract business travelers, there have also been an uptick in trips to Europe, McCormick says.
Businesses are also sending employees to more off-site meetings and conferences.
Group travel spending, which has been the slowest to recover because the trips require larger investments and advance planning, should rise by 6.5% to $124.5 billion this year, the group predicts.
Want more details? The GBTA BTI™ Outlook – United States report is available exclusively to GBTA members by clicking here and non-members may purchase the report through the GBTA Foundation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To view an abstract of this research, click here.
Since the roll-out of TSA Pre✓™ GBTA has met with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) numerous times discussing ways to provide platforms that easily answer the many questions about TSA Pre✓™. TSA has listened to you and the concerns we have raised and created a Toolkit that allows you to take official material and use it in your company newsletters, send to your travelers and customers, etc!
TSA has new TSA Pre✓™ webpage. The site has Q&A, press releases, a link to the application page, a graphic illustrating the likelihood of getting TSA Pre✓™ and other useful tools. On this site you can also find the Trusted Traveler Program comparison chart, and you can click on the entry portal to the TSA Pre✓™ application.
Now, you have the resources to educate your travelers on one of 2014's hottest business travel programs.