by Michael J. Shapiro | August 30, 2011

 The Global Business Travel Association held its annual convention in Denver last week, wrapping up on Wed., Aug. 24. Nearly 6,000 travel professionals were in attendance, about 20 percent of whom were travel buyers — or Direct members, in the association’s terminology. The convention was one of the largest in the association’s history.
 
This year’s event also marked the first under the association’s new name, which changed from National Business Travel Association to Global early this year. Appropriately, the organization’s increasing international reach was a theme throughout the convention. New inroads will be made in the Latin American market, GBTA announced Monday, via local chapters in Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru. The organization already has a chapter in Mexico and a presence in Brazil through a partnership with ABGEV, the Brazilian Business and Events Travel Association. In addition, GBTA soon will be launching its Business Travel Index — which gauges the overall health of the business travel market — for the Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America markets.
 
On a similar note, GBTA announced Wednesday that it was acquiring Project ICARUS, an industry sustainability program, from the UK’s Institute of Travel and Meetings. GBTA partnered with ITM last year to build GBTA Europe. ITM’s efforts in the area of sustainability now provide GBTA with a platform from which to build a global sustainability program and establish best practices on a broader scale. The project’s head, Bernard Harrop, will continue to lead the program.
 
The association also revamped its educational program and officially launched what it is calling the GBTA Academy. While members will be able to maintain all of the previous certifications offered — CCTE, CTE and SMMC — those designations will no longer be awarded anew. Instead, GBTA will offer three certificates for business travel professionals — at the associate, manager and leader levels. The new approach brings more academic standardization to the process, along with a new head, GBTA’s dean of education Amanda K. Cecil. (Cecil was instrumental in helping to develop the course work for the association’s SMMC certification for strategic meetings management.) GBTA is partnering with the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to offer the new program, which will be available in the first quarter of 2012. The association’s previous partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business will continue, as will the Global Leadership Professional (GLP) designation program. The GBTA Academy intends to debut the first-ever travel management certification exam at next year’s convention in Boston, July 22-25, 2012.
 
Focus on groups
Groups and meetings were well represented among the convention’s educational sessions, with a particular focus on the topics of strategic meetings management, return on investment and meetings-related technology.
 
Strategic meetings management was a particularly active topic of discussion. The GBTA Foundation, the research and education arm of the association, collaborated with technology provider StarCite to launch the Strategic Meetings Management Maturity Index. The tool helps members gauge the progress of their SMM programs, in addition to offering recommendations for further improvement. Best-practice models are applied to analyze SMMPs across 13 different categories, including strategy, data analysis and reporting, policy, approval, technology and sourcing/procurement. StarCite contributed much of the technology that powers the index and recommendation engine, but none of its client data; GBTA members must enter all of their own data to use the tool. As use of the tool grows, the data will become a stronger gauge of success for benchmarking purposes.
 
At least two books dedicated to strategic meetings management debuted at the convention. Strategic Meetings Management Handbook: From Theory to Practice was edited by StarCite’s Kevin Iwamoto and contains chapters by 11 industry luminaries on the history, progression and best practices associated with SMM. Although StarCite was responsible for the book’s publication, chapters reflect the author’s own experiences with SMM development, Iwamoto explained. Each chapter addresses a different SMM challenge, said Iwamoto, so readers can skip around and apply valuable lessons to whatever challenges they are facing, at whatever stage of SMMP development is appropriate to them. See starcite.com for details.
 
Industry consultant Debi Scholar, who contributed a chapter to the above-mentioned collection, also completed a book of her own: Strategic Meetings Management: The Strategy Quick Reference Guide. This guide offers case studies, tips, best practices, strategies for implementation and more, including a history of strategic meetings management. Debi can be reached through her blog, T&E Plus, at teplus.net.

In other SMM news, technology provider Cvent unveiled new enhancements to its platform, designed to ease in the globalization of strategic meetings management programs. The new features aid in the standardization of meetings management across different regions. For instance, managers can now set a default currency to roll up financial data while allowing employees to continue working in their own local currency when drafting RFPs and the like. Also, registration sites can now be built in multiple languages, and attendee details can be captured regardless of the booking system used, global distribution system or country of origin. According to Cvent chairman and CEO Reggie Aggarwal, the market demand for SMM technology tools is huge. “Everyone will be developing strategic meetings management programs soon because it just makes sense,” he said. “And we need tools that are easy to use and that people will adopt.”