The 175 attendees at the recent joint summit between the Institute for Supply Management and National Business Travel Association were the elite few taking the leap into not only managing their companies' business travel but also getting their arms around meeting spend.

"Meetings are a brand-new subject for procurement professionals," said Craig Banikowski, CCTE, CPM, CMM, director of global travel management at Hilton Worldwide, Beverly Hills, Calif., and president and CEO of NBTA. "Companies are looking for every nickel and dime they can find, so it makes sense that eventually they will look at meetings. But it's still very few who are."

The number of C-level execs who are aware of meeting spend is even lower, according to Peter Matthews, CMM, principal of Meeting Analytics, Chicago, and a presenter at the two-day summit, held January 27–28 in Tampa, Fla. He estimates that 40 percent of C-level executives understand travel procurement while only 4 percent understand meetings procurement.

In fact, the industry doesn't even have established terminology for travel and meetings; the joke around the summit was that the term "vendor" applies to hot dogs, not hotels. Hotels should be known as "strategic suppliers."

The conference offered attendees—primarily procurement executives from large companies—a wealth of information for taking control of both meetings and travel spend. Interestingly, Matthews and many of the other experts who presented were not as much in favor of combining travel and meetings procurement as of making sure that travel managers leverage the 25 percent (Matthews’s estimate) of meetings that likely take place in hotels that are already preferred travel partners.

Matthew also doesn't advocate that companies try to move meetings to preferred properties if it isn’t the right fit. "Meetings and travel procurement are not the same process; they only use the same suppliers. Meetings have many more contracts to negotiate. It's a different ballgame. There could be 20 or 30 different types of meetings going on within a single company, and you have to consider the objectives of those meetings when you choose a property. Also, the meeting sponsors—who can be pretty high-level in the company—might have an emotional attachment to using a specific property."

Other sessions focused on achieving compliance for your travel program; gathering metrics about the cost per attendee, per day, for both meetings and travel; understanding the impact of the economy on travel and meetings; and converting live meetings into virtual meetings (what's become know in the procurement industry as "travel avoidance”). Companies, including Cisco Systems and AXA Financial, presented travel-reduction plans that included using virtual meetings via telepresence technology as a replacement for a growing percentage of internal, non–customer-facing travel and meetings.