Andrew Burch is Head of Client Communications and Sales Support at Hillgate Travel. The UK’s largest truly independent travel management company, Hillgate Travel prides itself on offering clients greater flexibility, faster response times and a more personal approach. Unusually, all services are provided in-house and are available 24 hours a day every day of the year, which has built Hillgate Travel an enviable reputation over the past 30 years.

Hillgate Travel recently unveiled ‘GateWay’ in conjunction with Concur® Expense. An integrated online travel booking, automated expense management and business intelligence solution, GateWay is designed to give clearer insight into business travel costs and ensure tax compliance. Full visibility of a company’s business travel element results in increased control and identification of potential efficiencies.


Group Travel Organisers are coming under increased pressure to align their functions and delivery with more generalised transient travel procurement practices, despite the unique requirements and objectives of their role. Indeed, some in group travel are being required to justify their very existence to avoid being consumed within a more generalised procurement function. There is no doubt this is a developing trend and a concern for the traditionalists but, as always, there is a new dawn rising.

Taking an allegorical lead from chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame’s classic ‘The Wind in the Willows’, in search of a lost cause, Rat is given new hope and direction by the mystical sounds of the new dawn breaking around him. Mole, his companion, is more traditional and cannot hear a thing – in the coming months you may have to decide which type you want to be, but it may not be as bad as you think!

While group travel professionals have long been part of professional bodies, it is two organisations associated with transient travel that are largely directing the current agenda. CIPS, the leading procurement body, sees MICE management as an area of “high potential for value generation” and the ITM is now the Institute for Travel & Meetings Management. A recent white paper from both bodies clearly states their belief that “Meetings and Events should be procured the same way as commodities – with objectivity, accountability and an established procurement process”. The inference from this statement is that the longstanding group travel professionals lack the skills to run this process – however, it should not be a battleground. There are, from my experience, some pretty good group travel procurement experts and some pretty bad transient ones!

So what are the actual problem areas and what can be done to derive the desired integration to the benefit of both sides of the argument? – after all, one would assume that the likely protagonists both work for the same company!

The desire for integration is driven by three essential elements:

  • Controls effective in transient travel      purchase can be brought in to manage meetings and event management      expenditure – especially small meeting venue finds which were previously      not considered as MICE purchases and often unmanaged completely
  • Bookers welcome a ‘one stop shop’ service      provision and there are distinct advantages in this method to drive      corporate compliance. It does makes sense to have specific MICE booking      links to the same audience involved in transient travel
  • The consolidated approach and expertise      of a single Travel Management Company drives commodity cost savings in      transient travel and MICE expenditure is seen as a maverick cost element      that can be controlled and used to increase purchasing power

Recognising this shift for travel management companies has required significant change and the integration of specialist expertise. Established event management departments - our own Hillgate Solutions as a case in point - have been required to bring in new technology and working practices to manage the small meetings expenditure and the frequent requirement to deliver against an accommodation-only requirement.

In the recent past, specialist service providers could propose excellence in meeting these particular needs. However, there is a growing feeling that this specialisation may no longer meet the criteria demanded to deliver best practice today. The Hotel Booking Agency market has changed significantly recently with the UK’s two major service providers – BSI & Expotel – being merged back into a single TMC operating model. Given the acceptance by both ITM and CIPS in relation to MICE best practice, it is fairly certain that a single TMC option is likely to be the best practice directive in the near future.

What can you do to address this shift?

There are five key things that will keep you in control of your destiny:

  • Embrace the change and start directing      ‘events’ – after all it is your area of expertise!
  • Meet with the head of transient travel      procurement in your company and start building a unified agenda
  • Speak to your established suppliers – ask      them for their experience in meeting the changing needs and what best      practice lessons they can pass on from elsewhere
  • Develop your own business plan for      maximising cost control – seek a technology wish list, a best practice      internal travel policy and take a good look at the actual financial aspect      of your area of responsibility
  • Meet with your incumbent transient      travel company – ask them for their agenda in this area, get them to      demonstrate their technology, ask them to come up with a business plan for      moving forward. (Meeting with other TMCs is also appropriate but I would      recommend doing so as a joint venture with the transient travel manager)

As a group travel professional this trend could be seen as a threat or an opportunity – my premise is that you are the only person who can decide which way to go. Burying your head in the sand like ‘Mole’ or seeing yourself at the vanguard of change and opportunity like ‘Rat’? Truly you are the Piper at the Gates of Dawn and if you can “hear that mystical music” there is a clear and exciting way forward.


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