Merely the latest buzzword or a logical move for the MICE industry? Business Traveller talks to Tourvest Travel Services about Meetings Management.
Samantha Frank, Chief Operating Officer, Leisure Travel & Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events at Tourvest Travel Services (TTS) defines Meeting Management as the process of consolidating group travel, meetings and event planning into a centralised function. She says: “Meetings Management is the current global term used to manage meetings, conferences and groups events – in some instances it will include incentive travel.” The point of Meetings Management is to strategically determine how total spend, volumes, standards, suppliers and risk can be managed more effectively to align with the company strategy, maximise on resources and have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Where did it all start?
In the 1980s many companies focused on initiatives to cut and control travel costs in its entirety. In the early 1990s the focus shifted onto the Meetings, Events and Incentives environment. In 1994 the National Business Travel Association Groups and Meetings Committee authored the ‘white paper’ with the intention of providing corporate travel buyers with information that would assist in the development of a Strategic Meetings Management Programme. In the early stages, this initiative was embraced by companies with large sales forces and multiple product lines that managed a number of meetings and events in the year – subsequently, though, a number of organisations have implemented this in their business. The South African business environment and, in particular, global companies have started to explore this initiative in the hope that they can achieve the same results as with travel management. Frank adds: “It is, however, a new and evolving initiative and still at the beginning stages, with a great deal of work to be done to achieve the full benefit.”
What changes will be seen?
According to Frank, Meetings Management will position the corporate to proactively manage meeting spend and volumes, segments controls, reduce risks associated with MICE, and establish data to monitor and manage MICE. “It can also encourage alternatives such as virtual meetings which in turn will reduce costs, increase productivity and contribute positively in reducing carbon emissions,” she adds. For the MICE industry, Frank also points out a number of changes that could emerge. “It could change existing relationships between the MICE supplier and buyer. Suppliers will have to operate in a more formalised environment and where controls are tighter which could change the way some MICE suppliers work,” she explains. She also says that, dependent on the contract, some corporates will sign preferred agreements which, in turn, may affect future opportunities for other MICE suppliers to tender. Frank states that there will be a need for greater transparency and that Contractual Agreements and Service Level Agreements will be drawn up between the two parties. “There will be pressure on the MICE supplier to offer competitive pricing, management fees and costs, and potentially, margins could decrease,” she adds.
What are the pros?
Meetings Management will align MICE to business strategy, and increase quality, consistency and continuity with branding strategy. It could see the development of an organisational MICE compliance policy linked with travel and other related policies which, in term, will reduce legal, financial and operational risks. Other advantages include the establishment of a Standard Operating Process to ensure consistency and reduction in duplication; strategic sourcing for MICE – formalising contracts and leveraging on savings across the company; reducing the number of suppliers and creating preferred partner programmes for increased savings; creating professional planning teams, either internally or outsourcing and, in turn, reducing duplication of effort, and managing crisis situations by having a full understanding of events managed within the company. Frank further explains that Meeting Management capitalises on the professional planning skills which will ensure standardisation, quality, consistency and professionalism across all areas of the business. It also provides accurate management information with regard to spend, volumes, types and nature of event, venues, etc., as well as an accurate breakdown of financial information relating to each event. Meetings Management will also see the automation of processes that,in turn, will improve efficiencies and productivity. Lastly, she says, it will involve applying basic procurement principles to the purchase of goods and services for MICE.
Are there any cons?
“It is critical to include all stakeholders is not managed in the correct manner, it could lead to resistance within an organisation,” says Frank. She also believes that focus is sometimes only placed on pricing and not service offering which can have a negative impact on the business. Depending on the process, she says that the creative elements could be lost and a ‘win win’ situation is not always the case. Frank points out that there is pressure on the MICE supplier to cut margins to the bone and deliver the same service. “If the process is not driven and controlled within an organisation you will not achieve the results as expected, and will negatively impact on the business and the MICE supplier”.
“In the event that a corporate wishes to engage in this process they need to see the long-term benefits. One needs to have an appreciation that this is not a ‘quick fix’ process but rather one which requires a great deal of effort, commitment and buy in,” explains Frank. It is imperative that adequate research and information is established upfront in order to achieve a Strategic Meetings Management Programme (SMMP). Further to this, says Frank, a MICE policy needs to support the SMMP, and efficient technology needs to be invested in. Leveraging off current supplier contracts needs to be considered to maximise on any corporate deals, and an evaluation process is to be considered to review the success of the SMMP over a stated period. Frank believes that Meetings Management is a much-needed shift in the industry on condition that it is aligned to the business strategy, involves all key stake holders within the business, and integrates all MICE processes. “Clear objectives need to be defined and a detailed implementation plan drawn up including communications, marketing, training, compliance monitoring and documented Standard Operating Procedures.”
Critical factors in a SMMP:
- Define the problem or opportunity Include all necessary stakeholders within the business
- Research and measure the current state of spend, policies, staffing, processes, etc
- Analyse the opportunities such as process efficiencies, risk management and cost savings
- Build a framework and project plan
- Effective communication and implementation strategy
- Continually review the process to determine successes, shortcomings, further opportunities, etc