New ‘Delta Edge Meetings' Shows Promise for Travel and Meeting Planners

The news about Delta Air Lines having rolled out a new iteration of its meetings program on Aug. 1, 2016, is music to my ears. I have been speaking with the major airlines for several years now to help them develop a meeting fare that corporations could use for their employee travel to and from meetings and events __ something that offered a little more flexibility for changes at a slightly higher price point, and which would move corporations away from using the complicated and low-yielding nonrefundable fares. I spun it as a win-win for both corporate buyers and the airlines. For the most part there were some continued conversations over the years but nothing concrete, until now, with Delta unveiling the Delta Edge Meetings program as part of its Delta Edge corporate solution.

I know the smart folks at Delta did a lot of marketplace research before unveiling this program, which will allow corporate clients to associate meetings spend with their overall transient spend as part of their total spend volume. The assumption is that they can leverage the combined spend for greater benefits and savings on Delta Air Lines. The key important differentiator is that corporate meetings spend can be isolated from transient travel spend with Delta Edge reporting. This new spend transparency makes it easier for Delta's corporate clients to calculate the value of their overall combined spend. And it provides visibility for travel managers by providing them with the meetings-spend volume data that they covet but have difficulty in obtaining from their marketing and meeting counterparts. In addition to the spend transparency and combined volume benefits, Delta Edge Meetings attendees also will receive corporate traveler benefits like priority boarding, preferred seating and other perks.

Delta Air Lines inherited the sophisticated and well-established Northwest Airlines groups and meetings division when they acquired and merged with Northwest in 2008. One of the smartest things Delta's leadership did early on was to recognize the value of this sales specialty, and they have invested more into developing it to the next level. That next level is remedying a current pain point that many corporate clients face. Most corporate meeting programs today, even after the introduction of strategic meetings management programs, remain decentralized and managed in separate operational silos. Corporate travel managers and meeting/event managers aren't able or capable of leveraging both verticals of spend jointly, so it appears that Delta has put some careful thought into creating a program where both could continue to work in separate silos but benefit from the combined spend volume. Delta is cleverly offering spend data, transparency and traveler/attendee flight benefits to sweeten the pot.

From a reporting standpoint, Delta was an early adapter of analytical spend reporting, and no doubt they will track meetings travel spend as they do with corporate transient travel. Both travel and meeting managers will be able to view air spend in several ways: associated with individual meetings, meetings spend as a bundle or combined with transient spend.

Delta's timing couldn't be better, as recent studies like the GBTA Foundation's Consolidation Trends in Meetings Events and Travel in 2015 found half of the travel buyers surveyed currently have or are in the process of implementing a consolidated meetings, event, and/or travel program. I've long been evangelizing that the current convergence of transient and meetings spend is the last frontier of spend consolidation opportunity, something that travel and meeting managers can leverage for the overall ROI to the bottom line of their companies. It's great to see an industry leader like Delta act on this trend by providing a program and solution that addresses all four of the Foundation's study findings on barriers to consolidation:

1. Meetings, events, and/or travel programs not centralized;
2. Lack of resources;
3. Pushback from existing teams;
4. Discouragement from suppliers.

I'm looking forward in anticipation of the initial data on Delta Edge Meetings. If they are successful in this endeavor, you can rest assured the other airlines will soon follow suit. Kudos to Delta for stepping up first!

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto.