"Oh, you're here for GBTA – welcome to Denver!" I returned the hotel front desk receptionist’s greeting with a warm smile. This was my first experience of GBTA 2016. I was excited to see what all the hype was about, as I’ve heard whispers of GBTA Convention since I started at Lanyon last year.
I was not let down. Finally seeing this outstanding conference in action as 6,000 bustling meetings, events, and travel professionals arrived from all over the world – from Dallas to the United Arab Emirates to Istanbul to Silicon Valley – it's a powerful mashup of the industry and all of its subcultures. Everything our industry stands for and believes in was put to the test over four dynamic and intense days.
Is it a great way to get out of business as usual? Yes. Is it a great opportunity to represent your organization as a unit? Absolutely. Is it a cool opportunity to show how creative vendor booths have become with 4K television screens, plush carpet, and sparkling champagne? Sure. Are there tons of free swag? Definitely. Are the parties awesome? Hell yes.
But there's so much more to it than that.
Here are just a few gems I took away from my first Global Business Travel Association Convention in Denver, Colorado:
Duty of Care Meets Ground Transportation
As a term, it was red hot at the convention – but quickly ran out of steam after the 100th time it came out of someone's mouth. However, as a theme, duty of care is still extremely relevant to what we do in this industry.
I had the opportunity to observe an intense debate between Scott Solombrino, President and CEO of Dav El/BostonCoach, and David Baga, Chief Business Officer at Lyft. (Fun fact: David Baga used to be a colleague of Lanyon’s own CEO, David Bonnette. They both worked at Oracle.) The discussion was moderated by Richard Quest, of CNN International.
The dialogue epitomized the ongoing clash between the traditional ground transportation market and the 21st century model: Ridesharing. Hot topics included: background checks, duty of care (Ah, there it is again), drug testing, convenience, affordability, and cost savings.
At one point in the heat of the argument, Richard opened an informal poll, asking the audience "How many of you have used a ridesharing service, like Lyft or Uber, in the past 48 hours?" 99% of the 1,000+ folks in the session raised their hands.
David made the point that the customers have chosen, even amongst the bourgeoisie of the travel industry, the on-demand ridesharing model over traditional transportation methods. Scott contended that ridesharing companies are getting away from the integrity of the industry by not conducting full FBI grade background checks.
Interesting dialogue – tweet us your thoughts about the ridesharing services debate.
Business Gets Done at GBTA
The expo is a distinct contrast from the usual dynamic of some other conferences I’ve attended: There were many meetings taking place and deals getting done, particularly within the hotel space. All the usual suspects were in attendance, with power players and those on the front lines from organizations like Hyatt, Starwood, and Marriott.
Relationships are started and cultivated here.
Everyone is two degrees away from the next person within their network. Corporate buyers, supplier executives, global travel managers, and reps from the hottest new startups in the industry are in the building – all here to do build long-term partnerships and do business together.
Technology Continues To Be The X-Factor
Whether you’re a travel manager or a transient traveler, technology impacts how you do business. The meetings, event, and travel industry are at the forefront of tech trends that haven’t yet hit other business sectors.
Technology has become the linchpin in travel experience.
Tech is now equally as important to your corporate travel program as sourcing and logistics. For those of us that work on the technology side, there are many opportunities coming down the pipeline to continue to add value to our customer base in interesting ways.
Nothing Is Perfect
There are unabashedly high expectations for an event planned FOR meeting, event, and travel professionals BY meeting, event, and travel professionals. When things don't go quite as expected, as a couple of things did, it's easy to forget the difficulty in managing all the moving parts of a 6,000 person convention.
Anyone in attendance will still tell you that by far the event was a success. As professionals, and quite often interchangeably, perfectionists, in this industry, there's a tendency to get caught up in the details. Rightfully so, but you have to remember, as a human, you'll never bat a thousand, no matter how much planning, risk mitigation, and coordinating you effectively execute, something always happens that you don't expect.
In the words of Scott Kelly, retired Astronaut and GBTA keynote speaker, "it's all about making small corrections along the way", to achieve really hard things. Whether you’re living in space for an entire year, or building an International Space Station the size of football field (some of it being constructed only while in orbit!), planning hundreds a meetings a year, or ensuring that each and every employee that travels for business in your organization makes it home safe to their family, every time –
This is hard work. But it's worth it.
In Conclusion - It’s the People
As I finish this post on the plane headed back to my residence in Atlanta, and back to business as usual, I reflect on what it means to be in this industry. There were even some “minor” hiccups associated with getting out of town (thank you, Denver, for the hospitality) – as a business traveler myself, this comes with the territory, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I realize that it's not the GBTA Convention as an entity, but the people that make up GBTA –and that includes you.
Even if you're not a member, or have never been to a GBTA Convention, you are still necessary for the industry to continue to grow and thrive. Lanyon also recognizes that fact, as we continue to build partnerships, work hard to grow our product, and drive high levels of satisfaction among our customer base, while attracting new customers.
GBTA is living, breathing proof, that we are, in fact, better together.
About the Author:
Ja’Rod Morris is a Customer Success Advisor for Lanyon, focusing on driving best practices, adoption, and Strategic Meetings Management with Fortune 500 companies. He enjoys spending time with his family, running, and a good IPA.