4 Key Takeaways from the GBTA Conference 2018 | Mark More

Last week, the Savoya team traveled to San Diego along with 7,000 other travel industry professionals for the 2018 Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) annual convention. In addition to exploring the more than 400 exhibitor booths, we attended several educational sessions and heard speakers including Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, address the current state of the industry.  

With few better ways to take the pulse of the biggest trends affecting business travel, we picked up on the following key themes to share from this year’s 50th Anniversary event:

  1. Business Travel Continues its Momentum
  2. Everyone’s Talking Data
  3. Safety and Security Remain Top of Mind
  4. Female Travelers Require Special Focus


Business Travel Continues its Momentum

In keeping with this year’s event theme, “Momentum,” Ken McGill presented findings from the GBTA BTITM Outlook—Annual Report & Forecast, released during the show, in a perennially popular session on the “Global Business Travel Index, Outlook for Global Business Travel.” In it, he presented several positive statistics on global growth, trade expansion and investment, and corporate profits—all of which support a confident outlook on business travel for 2018-2022. He revealed that global business travel spend reached $1.33 trillion in 2017, growing +5.8% over 2016 levels, and is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2022.

Though factors such as the increasing number of protectionist trade measures being implemented worldwide could depress this growth, McGill shared that most analysts anticipate a strong 2018 for global business travel, projecting +7.1% growth in spending, with 18 of the top 20 business travel markets expected to outpace their 5-year average growth rates. This expansion makes it critical that organizations have clear travel management policies in place, whether for risk management, compliance and related fields.


Everyone’s Talking Data

Data was certainly a central theme at this year’s show, with sessions addressing everything from monetization and compliance to personalization, metrics, and of course, GDPR.

The ultimate takeaway from all these sessions seems to be that while big data offers incredible potential as many example demonstrate, the travel industry—broadly speaking—still has a big opportunity to better utilize the information we have. What’s more, 57% of business travelers expect their providers to personalize their services to their preferences and past behaviors. But at the same time, care must be taken to ensure the appropriate use of this data: to balance the benefits of analysis with travelers’ need for privacy and compliance with regulations such as GDPR.

Focus seems to be an important part of how our industry can walk that fine line. Rather than capturing everything and boiling the ocean for insights, clear objectives and applications for data analysis projects can help companies navigate this critical capability.


Safety and Security Remain Top of Mind

The sheer number of sessions and exhibitors addressing travel safety and risk management alone made it clear that significant attention is still being directed toward anticipating and managing duty of care concerns.

Some key learnings from these discussions include:

  • Travel security risk isn’t limited to “high-threat” areas. Even domestic travel presents risks that must be accounted for, such as weather and natural disasters, which is why every step of your travel program must be evaluated for its safety posture and emergency readiness.
  • Travelers’ perception of risks—as opposed to actual risks themselves—may be skewed, but that doesn’t mean you should only prepare for one set of them. Planning for the risks that are most likely to affect your travelers (such as auto accidents or medical emergencies) may actually keep them safe, while guarding against those they fear most makes them feel safer and more confident in your program.
  • Travel managers and security teams continue to struggle with program compliance, especially among C-suite travelers. Winning buy-in among these senior executives is critical, not just for their own safety, but for those down the corporate hierarchy who may not understand the importance of compliance when they see their leaders flaunting the rules.


Female Travelers Require Special Focus

Finally, on a related note, one particular safety and security topic that received extra attention at this year’s show was the question of how to best protect female business travelers. Based on a study conducted by GBTA and WWStay, a full 69% of U.S. travel buyers believe that women travelers generally face greater risk when traveling for business; AIG found that 71% of female travelers themselves believe they face greater risk than male counterparts.

Despite this heightened awareness, one session revealed that only 18% of travel policies specifically address female safety and only 4% of companies provide female-specific traveler safety training. They stressed preparation, awareness, and executive buy-in as the easiest and highest-impact ways to address these concerns. As speaker Brittany Lewis from AIG noted, “guidance is the easiest thing a company can do. So why aren’t we doing more of it?”

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