THERE'S A STRONG FORCE AT WORK — one that you may or may not know about — protecting your budget every time you book air travel for a group. The Business Travel Coalition, led by a tireless Kevin Mitchell, just marked its 10th year of advocating for the business and meeting traveler.

BTC's work has often gone unnoticed by many meeting planners, but it greatly affects companies' business-travel bottom lines. For example, its efforts in late August (along with those of other lobbying groups) helped to squelch a Northwest Airlines decision to “share” part of its GDS expenses with customers, which would have resulted in a fare hike of $7.50 per ticket.

While advocacy “is what we've always done and been known for,” Mitchell recently told me, BTC has decided to broaden its mission by “adding the opportunity to benchmark, network, and get market intelligence in a super-efficient, super-fast way.” It has added a number of inexpensive membership categories to provide access to more companies and is aiming to grow the number of individual members from 320 to 1,000 — this year, if it can. And Mitchell is expanding his advocacy efforts to other supplier groups, including hotel and rental car companies.

In many ways, what Mitchell calls his “nonbureaucratic, unpolitical, low-cost management” of BTC is a new model for associations. Now, let's see if his membership climbs.

What's next? Mitchell plans to start an online industry think tank “to allow segments of the industry, like insurance conference planners, to establish discussion groups organically.” Also, BTC is getting involved in research in an area it's never touched before — incentive travel — having just released a benchmarking study of 55 companies (for more, see our November issue).

The reality is that, with the move toward consolidation, many corporate meeting planners no longer work on their own turf. It's important to be informed about the issues — and to create an industrywide voice for change that is rooted in advocacy. BTC is positioning itself to be that voice.

Barbara Scofidio Editor

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