“Convergence” may have been the theme of this year’s Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) Convention in Boston, but what were folks really buzzing about at the largest gathering of business travel professionals in the world? Read on to find out.

Business is good

Despite fears that some of the Trump administration’s travel-related policies may be having a negative impact on business travel and the U.S. economy overall, it seems those concerns are overblown.

As Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive of IAC™ and Expedia, Inc.™ and one of the convention’s keynote speakers, said during his time on stage at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, “The economy is good. There’s much more growth than a lot of the skeptics think there is or that some of the numbers (suggest).”

Actually, according to a white paper that the GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of GBTA, produced in partnership with American Express Global Business Travel, the numbers for business travel spend in the United States are looking good — real good.

The report, which was publicly released at the convention, shows that U.S. businesses spent a whopping $424 billion to send travelers out on the road for 514.4 million domestic business trips in 2016.

Another astonishing fact coming out of the research: The business travel industry supports 7.4 million American jobs and generated $135 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2016.

A recent Associated Press article also demonstrates how, despite fears of a “Trump slump,” the industry is doing quite well. The latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index show a 6.6 percent growth in international travel to the U.S. in April and a 5 percent spike in May compared with the same months last year.

“It’s contrary to everything we’ve heard, but travel is in slightly better shape than it was a year ago,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Everyone wants me to tell the story of the sky is falling, but for the travel industry, the sky is not falling.”

It seems the sky isn’t falling down on business meeting spend either. Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president of American Express Meetings & Events, who also was quoted in the AP article, said he has “not seen a slowdown in either domestic U.S. meetings or international meetings from the U.S. in the past six months.”

The question is, with the cost of travel expected to rise in 2018, can spend remain strong? Time will tell.

Boosting LGBT support

One workshop at the GBTA Convention that made industry headlines was a session that focused on how to protect LGBT travelers during visits to the 72 countries that currently criminalize homosexuality and other destinations with cultures that are intolerant of LGBT people.
As reported by Buying Business Travel, panelists said that LGBT risk management is an “incredibly complex and nuanced” issue with a wide range of laws, interpretations and cultural attitudes.

Complicating matters is the fact there sometimes are different pockets in a single country that may be less tolerant of the LGBT community. For instance, as Jean-Marie Navetta, director at LGBT support organization PFLAG National, said at the convention, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office issued warnings for gay travelers visiting parts of the United States last year.

The panel recommended that companies provide training, resources and advice for all their business travelers (not just the ones who are “out”) about the steps they can take to protect themselves during their travels.

For more information on how to help your LGBT travelers, read these tips from the U.S. Passports and International Travel’s as well as this comprehensive LGBT business travel guide released by Marriott International™ and IBM™.

Hilton, Marriott to charge penalty fees

With Hilton and Marriott International both announcing right before the convention that they will be charging a penalty for reservations canceled within 48 hours of the hotel stay at properties throughout the United States and Canada, it was guaranteed to be a hot topic in Boston.

 

“This was one of the fears everyone had with big consolidation,” Hess Corp. global travel category manager Nicki Leeds said during one of the GBTA Convention education sessions. “It is very difficult with a chain the size of Marriott to eliminate them from your program.”

Marriott and Hilton both will charge a one-night penalty fee for those who do not give at least 48 hours’ notice — a move that is expected to have a greater impact on corporate travel than leisure since business trip itineraries often shift at the last minute.

“It’ll obviously affect our corporate clients who have to make last-minute changes on a fairly regular basis. With that being said, I do expect Marriott will waive these penalties for their top corporate accounts. It’s the small to medium-size companies that will be affected,” said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors for an article by Travel Market Report.

So what can a travel manager do about all this?

“It’s all about relationships,” Business Travel News cited EY Americas travel lead Barbara Rose as saying during the GBTA education session. “When this happens, what is your relationship with your supplier? What can you do to mitigate it? What can you do to help educate your travelers? What does the data say? Work through that.”

Things like this are going to happen again and again, so it’s important that travel managers prepare now.