Key Takeaways from ITM Empower 2024

Key Takeaways from ITM Empower 2024

Key Takeaways from ITM Empower 2024
28th May 2024

The ITM Spring Conference 2024 event brought nearly 600 travel industry professionals to Brighton’s Hilton Metropole on April 24th and 25th. Delegates came together to discuss emerging travel trends and engage in healthy debate over what matters most to travel industry professionals and their clients.

This year’s event was titled Empower’, and it certainly lived up to its billing – with two days of inspirational and thought-provoking keynotes, a strong focus on well-being, and insightful break-out sessions spanning AI technology to mental health.

Read on for our conference round-up and key takeaways.

 

Brighton pier over the beach
Nearly 600 travel management professionals returned to Brighton for the second consecutive year for the ITM Spring Conference 2024

What are the trends for business travel and mobility in 2024?

Gideon Skinner from Ipsos shared a spectrum of insightful UK market research, revealing business leaders’ three main priorities when booking accommodation:

  • Comfort and quality of service
  • Value for money
  • Sustainability action

He presented a mixed outlook for business travel and mobility – reporting that some 48% of business leaders expect to travel more for business in 2024. With that said, 40% of the same expect lower spend on company travel in 2024. However, Bob Somers, SVP of Global Sales at Delta reported that 90% of their corporate clients intend to spend more on business travel in 2024. The appetite for travel is clearly strong but it remains to be seen if this will translate to corporate budgets.

This appetite aligns with current attitudes towards remote working; 55% of 18 – 30-year-olds would prefer a hybrid working structure and 71% of business leaders believe hybrid working is important. Suggestive of a shift away from exclusive home-working structures and evidence of how changing work preferences can boost corporate travel demand.

Is the travel industry sustainable?

 

"93% of businesses risk failing against their emissions goals without substantial efforts to improve their carbon reduction initiatives."
- Mark Corbett, Thrust Carbon

 

Mark Corbett, Founder and Director at Thrust Carbon, delivered an important message about the power of our industry to affect meaningful sustainability change. He shared that although 92% of business travel professionals say sustainability is a priority for their organisation, and despite the extensive coverage now afforded to ESG agendas, global emissions continue to rise. So how does the business travel and mobility sector help to reduce these emissions?

Mark argues that accurately measuring our environmental impact is the necessary first step in creating the foundation for actionable change. He also challenged attendees to reflect on their personal sustainability choices – telling us that the impact of a shift in mentality can be seismic.

 

“Getting in front of clients is still a fundamental business practice with real value, so we need granular carbon budgeting to help quantify and reduce our impact on the environment”.
- Mark Corbett, Thrust Carbon

 

SilverDoor's Katie Garrahy stands at our sustainable bottle sponsorship stand with personalised bottle gifts
SilverDoor gifted personalised reusable water bottles to all delegates to help reduce waste and event emissions 

What ESG best practice should TMCs adopt?

During a spirited live Q&A session, panellists took questions from delegates on all things ESG. Jason Geall, Executive Vice President Global SME at AMEX GBT implored travel buyers to weight sustainability factors highly when selecting suppliers.

The panel agreed that educating employees and stakeholders should be the first port of call, providing suppliers the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability improvements. With that said, there was healthy discussion around whether buyers are naming and shaming suppliers whose ESG policies aren’t evolving with the times. The consensus among panellists is that suppliers’ and potential suppliers’ ESG commitments are being discussed internally and these discussions are directly impacting booking and onboarding decisions. Are you concerned about keeping up with the latest ESG requirements?

Jason Geall also addressed concerns around the cost of switching to sustainable products and sustainability-driven services – whether that be sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), in-apartment products, or logistical adaptations on the supplier side.

 

“The cost curve for sustainable products will reduce in the same way they did with solar panels, it’s just a matter of time.”
- Jason Geall, AMEX GBT

 

Steve Cassidy, SVP and MD Hilton UK & Ireland, discussed the value of sustainability accreditation as a way of showing commitment to ESG goals. Not only does ESG accreditation validate a business’ sustainability efforts, but it ensures strategic measures are being taken to reduce emissions over time. Direct emissions reporting and transparency around ESG goals and progress is key. 

Which other indicators of progress should we be measuring ourselves by? 

 

"Over half (54%) of business leaders in the aviation industry say reducing emissions is a top priority."
- Gideon Skinner, Ipsos

What are travel bookers doing to stay relevant?

Solutions for modernising travel and mobility programmes was a key theme throughout the ITM Empower conference.

Stephen Baars, President and CEO at BCD Travel, argued that the key to bookers and agents delivering a modern service is their agility and flexibility to client demand. He also outlined the importance of promoting standardisation and regulation to deliver fast and effective programme improvements.

During an engrossing supplier panel session on ‘The Evolution of Travel Management’, we got an insight into the role of the modern travel buyer. Particularly interesting were the survey results on which elements of travel management are most time consuming for travel buyers – the top five were:

  1. Supplier management
  2. TMC management
  3. Programme strategy
  4. Payments/tax/finance
  5. Traveller experience

How can businesses future-proof travel programmes?

Exploring how technology advances have impacted traveller expectations and modern working patterns, Michelle Wakelin, Communications Manager at AMEX GBT, shared some keen insights into where travel programmes are heading.

Flexibility, control, and simplification has become a top priority for corporate travel programmes. This has expedited the demand for online booking platforms and tools which offer convenient, personalised booking experiences. Clients also want to untangle their booking itineraries and access consolidated reporting for their programmes quickly and easily.

 

Conference presentation CEO
ITM Board Member, Stuart Winstone (SilverDoor Group CEO) delivered a rousing welcome speech to kickstart day two of the ITM Empower Conference 2024 

 

Addressing the state of modern booking platforms, Bill Brindle from Spotnana addressed the need to consolidate property content, highlighting the importance of minimising content fragmentation - a challenge that he says the entire industry must face head on.

Investment in technology which can integrate with existing client-side platforms will be crucial to meeting booking demand and delivering a seamless experience to travellers and bookers.

What are the practical applications for Generative AI in business travel and mobility?

 

“When it comes to travel data, we keep looking at the same things and we keep getting the same answers. We have to do something different”
– Shelley-Fletcher Bryant, Advito

 

Generative AI is as divisive as it is intriguing, and this combination was definitely evident at the 2024 ITM Conference. Whether it was during breakout sessions outlining its potential or during the supplier fair, AI and new technology was a hot topic of conversation.

What can artificial intelligence do for us in the business travel and mobility space? How can we benefit from new technologies, and what do they mean for the role of the service provider?

What are the top five challenges you face when using data?

In an interactive break-out session, Shelley Fletcher-Bryant from Advito unpicked the enigmatic world of AI. She highlighted the necessity of leveraging data in modern travel and mobility programmes, and how AI can help with harnessing booking and travel data. Among the key uses for Generative AI was the ability to interpret large data sets, spot trends, and swiftly deliver benchmarking data.

Delegates were then asked for their views on the pitfalls of AI technology in the conference's Live ITM Survey. The top five were:

  1. Quality of data
  2. Accuracy of data
  3. Consistency
  4. Timeliness
  5. Normalisation

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How can AI enhance your day-to-day processes? Complete our short (1 minute) survey and let us know!

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This year's ITM Spring Conference was as thought provoking as it was enjoyable, combining a keen exploration of the hot button topics of 2024 with the opportunity to network with the leading minds in the business travel and mobility space. 


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