Strategic Meetings Management (SMM): Tech Talk

Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) continues to be a primary focus for corporate and association planning teams. Post-recession, there are increased expectations by senior management for improved planner productivity, added meeting value, cost savings, contract risk reduction and ROI. Meeting demand and attendance is soaring, yet for planners, meeting budgets remain flat.
Validating meeting value to senior management and stakeholders is essential in this value centric environment. This includes metrics to define, measure and report success. Today, meeting planners are looking for quality and cost savings and a meeting component creating a lot of stress and budget concern is individual and group air travel.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to discuss this important topic with John Alcure, Vice President with AmTrav, a global leader in air travel management.

Q. Tim Brown - I think most planners would agree that air travel has become complicated and costly, without the right planning process. How do you see it?

A. John Alcure - There are lots of options when it comes to booking air travel including traditional travel agencies, online travel agencies, airlines sites in addition to hundreds of other websites and mobile apps as well. To the average traveler there may not seem to be a dramatic difference in any of these options but the reality is, that is not the case. This is especially true when it comes to meetings where coordinated ground transportation and other SMM variables come into play. Air travel for meetings requires a great deal of coordination with the meeting planner, DMC and others involved with the process. In addition, there are some discounts and strategies that come into play that help the organization’s bottom line cost for the event overall. The key is to provide the end user (traveler) with multiple / easy to use options to make flight selections while still keeping the company policy and other key factors in mind. When all is said and done, the company should be saving money, the traveler should be happy with their flight options.

Q. TB - I know that AmTrav has been an industry leader in air travel management. Tell me, what is your secret to success?

A. JA – It has truly been a combination of straightforward, easy to use technology and high quality people. We have developed and continue to develop our own proprietary online booking tool. This comprehensive easy to use tool allows the travelers access to all of the lowest fares in the marketplace (including web only fares with all carriers) and also provides online reports and other key tools for the meeting administrators. In addition, AmTrav offers high level agent support 24/7. The traveler service team has been established to handle all calls within 3 rings on average. The team also averages 15+ years experiences and is centrally located within the US to ensure proper coverage to all time zones. This high-tech, high-touch approach allows us to offer the travelers the best of both worlds and a much appreciated upgrade to what many of them are used to when trying to get a person to talk with in urgent travel situations. Online agencies have quality booking tools with plenty of bells and whistles but they have not really invested in the people side of the business.

Q. TB - How does technology play into the equation and what metrics are used to assure success?

A. JA – Having our own proprietary technology allows us to adjust to the constantly changing marketplace. For example, when American Airlines announced their new fare choice plans a couple of months ago, we were able to load those into our system within days while our competitors took weeks to get them in place. Most of our competition offers online booking through a third party system (they don’t own or manage the online booking tool directly). This is a key differentiator when examining the differences between most TMC’s and AmTrav. In addition, metrics provided through AmTrav include everything booking through us (no matter how it is booked – agent, online, chat, email) and coordinated with the meeting planner to ensure budget targets are met and the company is saving above and beyond the basic fare costs.

Q. TB - The cornerstone of Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) is data and reporting. How does AmTrav address this need?

A. JA – AmTrav offers online reporting that addresses both the needs of the meeting attendees as well as the company in total. Online reports include Travel Spend Summary, Air, Hotel and Car reports as well as Unused Ticket Tracking and Credit Card Reconciliation. People can be set up in the system as Administrators (allowing them total access to all data), Coordinators (allowing access to all data on specific travelers) or Travelers (access to all personal data only). As an AmTrav customer, this real time data is available at your fingertips, allowing you to make the best possible decisions when managing your meeting and managing your travel program in total.

Q.TB - What are your top tips for meeting planners wanting to improve their air travel quality and costs?
A. JA – Here are three keys from my perspective:
1. Choose an agency that provides you with multiple ways of booking travel, but also assigns a manager to work in concert with the planner to coordinate air bookings with all other aspects of the program.
2. Make sure the agency of choice has the ability to really take care of the travelers, not only during the booking process but when traveling to and from the event.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate...the best experiences come from a true partnership between the meeting planner and all of the suppliers involved in supporting their efforts.

Thanks John and I appreciate you taking time to connect the dots on an air travel business model that fits the SMM standards. Yes, domestic and international air travel can be complicated, but with the right advance planning and partnerships, measurable success can be achieved.

For additional information on AmTrav contact:

John Alcure, Vice President
AmTrav Corporate Travel
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Look for my future SMM: Tech Talk features and please let me know if you have any questions on the Strategic Meetings Management initiative or if you have an interest in a specific meeting, negotiations or technology topic.

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