Final Thoughts on NBTA 2010

We just got back from the 2010 NBTA Convention & Tradeshow. It was a fantastic event and in reflecting back on the conference, we saw many overarching themes – one being that travel is essential to our world. Just a few months ago, we saw how volcanic eruption in Iceland stopped travel, putting economies and airlines in jeopardy. Every keynote speaker from Condoleezza Rice and Sir Richard Branson to Lance Armstrong touched on the importance of travel and how nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. Another theme was that business travel is finally back on the upswing after the economic downtown.

And, mobile technology was another theme found at NBTA, showing how vital mobile capability is for the business traveler. The conference was a platform for announcing huge leaps in mobile technology to better assist travelers while on the road. Concur announced our next generation mobile solution, which includes new travel and expense functionality, new third-party mobile applications, and support for Android phones and Apple iPads.

However, the hottest topic at NBTA revolved around ancillary airline fees and unbundling. Moderator of the Airline CEO Hotseat session and CBS News Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg, described the airline ancillary revenue model as a “fee for all”. When asked about ancillary revenue, Continental Airlines CEO, Jeffery Smisek, told the audience how ancillary fees were essential to profitability and mentioned that “airlines going out of business is not good for anyone.” Yet, it’s not so much the increased travel costs these fees present, but that it’s adding a complexity to tracking and managing this spend that has travel managers frustrated.

At the “Ancillary Fees – The New Dirty Words?” session, Concur’s senior director, development, Ellen Trotochaud, participated along with Continental Airlines on the panel. She described how Concur makes it possible to track ancillary airline fees. When an expense report is filed with Concur Travel & Expense, ancillary fees are automatically defined – it’s an easy step for travelers that provides a great deal of insight around travel data to organizations. Concur client eBay was also on hand to describe how Concur has helped to manage and simplify this area of spend for their organization.

Also during that session, Continental Airlines’ senior VP of worldwide sales, Dave Hilfman, was asked why the airlines just don’t raise their fares. Hilfman explained how resistant Continental was to charging ancillary fees when all the competing airlines had started. They thought that their market share would increase by being one of the few not charging ancillary fees; however, after three months they saw no change. He justified, now that airlines have “unbundled” the costs, travelers don’t have to pay for services they don’t use, “If you don’t want it, you don’t pay for it.”

This year’s NBTA conference offered incredible insight into the state of the industry. Check out our NBTA photo album on Flickr and see photos from the event. What was the most interesting thing you learned while in Houston for the conference?

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