IN MARCH, the National Business Travel Association, an organization of corporate travel managers, joined the Convention Industry Council, an umbrella organization for associations related to the meeting and convention industry. Traditionally, the mission of the 37-year-old NBTA did not include a meetings focus, but times are changing. The move caps a two-year effort to serve the evolving needs of NBTA members, and perhaps provides another sign of the trend toward consolidation of corporate meeting and travel departments.

NBTA's Executive Director Bill Conners says that 60 percent to 65 percent of the association's 1,600 corporate travel buyer members have some level of responsibility for meetings of 10 or more people, and an equal number do some meeting site selection. That change, he says, has prompted action from NBTA. “In 2003, we formed our groups and meeting committee. We now have education tracks at our convention on groups and meetings, a strategic meeting management white paper, and a partnership with MPI [Meeting Professionals International]. Joining CIC is a next step in what is a logical progression for us of getting more actively involved in corporate meetings and strategic meetings management.”

Membership in CIC is a good fit for NBTA, Conners says, because of their shared interest in legislative advocacy issues. “Visa entry requirements, for example,” he says. “Biometric passport requirements have a huge impact not just on corporate travel management but on conventions here in the United States.

“But equally important,” he adds, “we'll have a seat at the table at CIC dealing with important issues in the industry as well as the evolving nature of strategic meetings and conventions.”

It's that strategic side of meetings, not meeting planning per se, that Conners sees as NBTA's focus. “One thing that corporate travel managers and corporate meeting planners have in common is the growing trend to consolidate them under procurement. That consolidation may mean that the travel manager is on top, or it may mean that the meeting planner is on top, but that's not the point. The point is that there's consolidation going on and it's happening in the procurement area, and both corporate travel managers and corporate meeting planners need to keep telling corporate leadership the value that they bring to their corporations,” Conners says.

While cost savings is critical, NBTA wants a higher role for members. “The corporate travel manager or the corporate meeting manager should be a key figure in the strategy of the corporation,” he says, “not just someone who saves money but who says to the C-level folks, ‘If we don't have our people out there on the road selling our product, meeting with vendors, learning, we're going less competitive than a company that does. We can prove that — and we can still save you money on how we travel.’ … If you don't have people defining what meetings or business travel means to a corporation, then your corporation is behind the eight-ball.”