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Posted: September 08, 2011

The travel pros came, they saw, they liked

Denver put out the welcome mat, big-time

Robert Polk

For four days in August, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) descended on the Mile High City for their annual convention. Nearly 6,000 professionals in the travel industry came together to talk shop, show off, and have some fun.

This was one of GBTA's largest conventions yet and they pulled off an impressive event. Part educational seminars, part industry dialogue and debate, and part trade show, GBTA is the big event in the business travel industry every year.

There were the expected speakers, like United Continental CEO, Jeff Smisek, and John Pistole, TSA Administrator, who opened the show. But, then there was Sean Penn, who spoke about Haiti Relief efforts, and former eBay President and CEO, Meg Whitman, and Henry Paulson, former US Secretary of Treasury, who brought their own unique perspectives to our evolving industry.

There were the expected educational sessions, from the basics of managing company travel for a handful of people to the intricacies of a complex, global travel policy. There was the expected peacocking on the trade show floor. And, there were the expected parties with the expected extravagances, including street performers, celebrity party crashers, and more trendy drinks than one could count.

But, despite the lavishness of many of the related events, the most common topics echoing through the convention related to value. How can companies travel smarter? How can they reduce their travel budget without actually traveling less?

According to GBTA research, global business travel spend was up 8.4 percent in 2010, bringing it back to pre-recession levels. And, moreover, growth of more than 9 percent is projected for 2011.

From 2008 to 2009, business travel worldwide dropped 7.8%. What followed proved that when you don't travel, you likely don't make much money either. It has been proven over and over again that investing in travel provides an incredibly valuable and consistent return.

All industry jargon, bargaining, and boasting aside, Denver provided the perfect backdrop for the perfect convention last month. Of those nearly 6,000 travel professionals, roughly 1,200 are actual travel buyers. (The rest of us are somewhere in the travel supply chain.)

Denver put on a memorable show for what was a very important audience. Those 1,200 travel buyers are the people who manage business travel for the largest corporations in the world-including planning their own conventions, off-site meetings, executive retreats, and often planning that ski vacation for the CEO and his family too.

Everywhere I went downtown, there was a special or discount welcoming GBTA attendees. The weather could not have been better. Everyone I met could not comment more about how friendly the people of Denver are, and how easy and convenient transportation was for all of the various events happening around town.

This could mean even bigger business for what is already big business in Denver. According to VISIT DENVER, we are fresh on the heels of our second-best convention year ever. In 2010 Denver hosted 75 conventions and 423 other meetings, bringing over 371,000 attendees to town. They brought with them an economic impact of $653 million. This year may exceed that.

We have a world-class, eco-friendly Convention Center, nationally recognized public transportation, a great airport, the beautiful Rocky Mountains, and 300 days of sunshine a year. When you also consider that we are improving light rail access to that world-class airport, and at least one very smart group is considering a second world-class convention center to sit right out by that world-class airport, we are positioning ourselves very favorably for more and larger events to make their way to our doorstep.

We are already the top ski destination in the country. I forecast a day soon in which we will also lead the nation as a meeting and convention destination as well. Who better for Denver to show off for than those who plan travel for a living?

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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at Robert@polkmajestic.com.

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