Op Ed: Gaurav Sundaram On Reinventing The Global Business Travel Association With A Truly Global Focus

ProKonsul Consulting’s Gaurav Sundaram has some experience with the Global Business Travel Association. He served on the group’s India advisory board between 2012 and 2015, and then for three more years as an external advisor in India and Singapore. He’s got some ideas on how to evolve GBTA into a more representative, worldwide organization.


With the demise of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, GBTA seems to be running a one-horse race to deliver a “global” business travel association. There are several things GBTA needs to take a good, hard look at to make meaningful change.

Let’s start with leadership. As GBTA research in 2017 showed, the business travel world was shifting away from North America. Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for 30 percent of total global spending and Asia contributed 42 percent. The Americas generated 28 percent. These stats prompt questions about the structure of the GBTA board of directors, currently comprised only of representatives from North America. 

Then there is the membership base. It is doubtful that even 10 percent of current members represent Europe and Asia combined. This points to a major failure in the way GBTA has been run the past several years. It contributed to North Americans winning almost every election for board seats and other leadership posts.

Unlike many other successful professional associations, GBTA remains an essentially North American entity with some international offshoots, some of which have been terminated in the recent past. Many potential members in markets outside North America don’t really know or understand GBTA’s value. Unfortunately for them, there isn’t much.

Gaurav Sundaram, ProKonsul

ProKonsul Consulting president Gaurav Sundaram

GBTA currently offers no truly global education initiatives.  Most current ones require in-person attendance in the United States and certain other locations. That is totally out of sync with how the business world delivers education today. GBTA offers a highly limited menu of online courses.

In most markets outside North America and Western Europe, there is a real dearth of business travel education, accreditation and certification. But there is a tremendous hunger among professionals in our industry who want to learn best practices and are willing to pay for such programs. Bereft of any institutional support, they stumble as they navigate their professional world.

Generating revenue in markets outside North America and Western Europe is a challenge. Event sponsors place strong emphasis on the expected ROI. Organizations in these markets value long-term partners rather than an entity that comes in for a couple of years before turning tail and heading back home. This is exactly how GBTA handled China, India, Singapore and Latin America. These markets require nurturing and collaboration, and work very differently than more mature markets.

GBTA has been unable to translate “Global” into anything more meaningful than a name.

Reinvention

Operating in a truly global marketplace requires a wider skill set and greater capability. What’s most important is listening to and understanding what each market expects.

To be truly representative, GBTA will need to review its bylaws, elections and governance. The association needs to hear from key markets beyond North America, recognize their unique developments and address their challenges. GBTA should be led by a board drawn from those key markets. Only then will it truly count as an inclusive, global body. 

To be successful in acquiring and diversifying membership, GBTA will need a compelling value statement and deliverables that appeal to audiences across markets. It needs to establish membership pricing based on each region, accounting for exchange rates.

Because many markets outside North America and Western Europe don’t have in-country bodies focused exclusively on business travel, GBTA will need to invest in building the basic frameworks. That should include in-country working groups and volunteer forums that help establish credible representation. Many of these markets have influential leaders who are willing to invest time and effort, as long as they are backed by institutional support.

GBTA needs to develop a long-term plan for visibility around the world including a genuinely global events calendar. Events mostly in North America and a couple in Europe are not sufficient.

Today, a lot can be done with webinars and other virtual events. Travel managers worldwide won’t tune in, though, if discussions largely are U.S.-centric or too generic. Content needs to be directly relevant to specific markets at locally convenient times. A diversity of speakers also is a must.

For professional development, GBTA needs a layered and meaningful education program that offers some standards across markets along with specific local and regional learning. GBTA could adapt current education and certification programs (including Fundamentals in Business Travel, Global Leadership Professional and Global Travel Professional) to make them more applicable to more people in more markets.

To be relevant to the industry today and for the foreseeable future, GBTA will need to restart things from scratch. Credibility is dented today. A focus on immediate short-term returns hampers the vision. Strong, corrective action is necessary.

If this does not happen, I would not be surprised to see GBTA follow ACTE into liquidation.


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Gaurav Sundaram

Author: Gaurav Sundaram

Gaurav Sundaram is the president of ProKonsul Consulting, a business travel management consulting firm focused on India and Asia. Gaurav brings three decades of leadership experience in the global business travel, technology and consulting domains. His span of experience includes significant success in managing complex businesses, establishing successful startups, strategic multinational business development and account management. Gaurav previously served as Egencia's country director in India. He introduced fully integrated enterprise self-booking technology to the corporate travel industry in India in 2009 and is recognized as an industry expert across India and Asia. Connect with Gaurav on LinkedIn.
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