6 Ways in Which Travel Management and Meetings Management Differ

This is part two of a two part article outlining the tasks that travel and meeting managers are responsible for.  Part one identified the similarities between the roles, and this part identifies the differences.  A link to part one of this article can be found at the bottom of this article.


Differences Between Travel and Meetings ManagementDifferences TM and SMM

There are six areas where there is a significant divergence between meetings management and travel management.  Some of the divergence is due to differences in the subject matter, and some is the result of the number of risks associated with meetings, which leads to the need for increased focus on regulatory and duty of care compliance issues in the meetings space.


Following are the six areas where travel and meetings management differ:

1. Risk Management

  • Regulatory Riskmeetings and events generate six significant risk types (see hyperlinks to earlier articles on risk listed at the end of this article).  Those responsible for meeting and event programs must be familiar with the risk areas for their industries, and develop and implement mitigation strategies and the appropriate data tracking mechanisms to reduce their organization’s exposure to regulatory, financial, reputational, and legal risk.
  • There are numerous regulations that apply to meetings, bit six of the primary ones are:
    • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
    • UK Bribery Act
    • Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
    • Physician Payment Sunshine Act
    • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
    • National Association of Securities Dealers Rules
  • Duty of Care – includes meeting attendee safety and security, and reputational protection.  The meeting manager’s responsibilities include:
    • Developing and implementing processes to find, contact and evacuate meeting attendees in emergencies
    • Reviewing and maintaining policies for alcohol consumption, driving after later arrivals, and data and intellectual property protection
    • Developing policies for meeting optics, venue sharing with competitors, and acceptable events, and gifts
  • Cancellation and Attrition Fees – depending on the size of the event, these fees can be between tens-of-thousands and hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.  Meeting manager responsibilities include:
    • Developing or modifying hotel addendum cancellation and attrition language to protect the organization from significant and unnecessary fees
    • Negotiating with suppliers to reduce or eliminate the fees
  • Signature Authority – a signature authority breach typically means that an employee of your organization without the proper signature authority level has signed an agreement with a venue, thereby binding your organization to the terms and conditions of the agreement.  Meeting manager responsibilities include:
    • Designing and implementing procedures to ensure compliance to signature authority limits
    • Conducting periodic and randomized contract reviews to identify signature authority breaches


2. Resistance to Change – while resistance to change is common in travel management programs, it rarely achieves the levels of resistance that are common in strategic meetings management (SMM) programs

  • This is because meeting stakeholders have likely spent years developing relationships with internal or external planners, and are typically resistant to modifying the program, or ‘messing with success.’
  • The stakes are also different, as travel management is about resistance by individuals that have an impact on an individual PNR (Passenger Name Record) of no more than a few thousand dollars, whereas in meetings, resistance to the program by an individual stakeholder has an impact on an entire meeting, which could take an entire meeting costing tens-of-thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of dollars out of the program if the stakeholder chose to be noncompliant


3. Benchmarking – as we know it from the travel world, is very difficult in the meetings environment, because there is no GDS (Global Distribution System) for meetings

  • In the strategic meetings management world data are stored within a meetings technology system
  • Sometimes that system is owned by the client, sometimes it is provided as part of a service by an meetings management  agency, or by the technology provider, but in any case, the data are stored in data islands, making it impossible to get an industry-wide view into meeting spend
  • The island nature of the data makes it difficult to consolidate data and build large enough data sets with sufficiently large peer groups that can yield statistically significant analysis


4. Stakeholders while meeting owners are typically both consumers of the travel program and meeting stakeholders, their interests differ in each role.  This results in more stakeholders in the meetings procurement process, which can lead to increased resistance to change.

  • As a traveler they are concerned with the efficiency, efficacy, and comfort of their own trip
  • But as a meeting owner they are concerned with the efficiency, efficacy, and comfort on behalf of their numerous guests, many of whom are customers
  • There are also more stakeholder types in an SMM program, as shown in the following bullet points:
    • Boards and Senior Management – much more so than travel, corporate meetings and events present significant duty of care and regulatory concerns that Boards and senior management are very interested in.  Once made aware of the risks associated with strategic meeting management programs, these constituencies engage themselves in increased oversight of meetings and events
    • Meeting Owners – one major and influential customer group is comprised of VPs of Sales and Marketing.  In the case of complex or high profile events, this group has likely spent years developing highly satisfactory relationships with internal or external meeting planners, and therefore, would likely constitute a major source of resistance to change


5. Hotel Contracting – meetings management requires extensive knowledge of the terms and conditions of hotel contracts.  The key areas that must be covered in a hotel contract or addendum are noted in the following bullet points:

  • Liability Insurance – including (1) Workers’ Compensation (2) Employers’ Liability (3) Automobile Liability (4) Comprehensive General Liability (5) Professional Errors and Omissions (including Environmental Impairment Liability), and (6) Liquor Liability Insurance
  • Competitors Onsite – the addendum should not allow having competitors onsite during your event, so as to minimize the potential loss of intellectual capital
  • Cancellation & Attrition Fees – if not negotiated properly can expose an organization to considerable risk
    • Hotel contracts will often impose the highest level of penalties as possible, as far out as possible
    • Penalties should only be applied to the net profit the venue stands to lose, as opposed to the negotiated rate for the room, because the hotel only stands to lose the net profit, and not the fixed cost of preparing the guest room for occupancy, which it incurs anyway
    • Similarly, hotels will try to collect fees on food and beverage, even though supplies for the meals to be served at the cancelled event will not have been purchased until a few days before the event


6. Booking Process – as noted in the stakeholders section above, the booking process for travel is different than for meetings in that the buyer is an individual buying for themselves, whereas in meetings, there is a single buyer purchasing a meeting on behalf of tens to thousands of attendees

  • So the travel buyer is less sensitive to the quality of the trip than a meetings buyer is to a meeting or event because a meeting impacts so many more people, many of whom might be customers
  • Additionally, the purchase of a single trip is more of a commodity buy on the part of the travel buyer, with limited options and with all the suppliers offering similar products
  • Whereas in meetings the buy is anything but a commodity, with the quality and creativity of the suppliers having a significant impact on the attendees’ experience


In summary, we see significant differences in the domain knowledge required to manage an SMM program.  While numerous travel managers and directors have already made the transition to managing SMM programs, I hope those still in transition will benefit from articles like this one that highlight the unique areas of strategic meetings management.  I also refer you to the hyperlinks below for articles that provide substantive steps that travel and meeting managers can undertake to address these issues.


See part one of this article:

Travel Management, Meetings Management:  What’s the Difference?


See previous articles on risk:

Does Your Company Conduct Meetings? If Yes, Then Your Employees, Brand, and Finances are at Risk

37 Ways to Mitigate Risk in Your Corporate Meetings & Events Program

26 More Ways to Mitigate Risk in Your Corporate Meetings & Events Program



If you are a travel director or manager needing assistance with the assessment, design, or implementation of your meeting program, please contact me at 609.466.0100 or email me at shimon@smmconsulting.com.  I will be happy to discuss your program with you, and if appropriate, to provide you with a complimentary risk assessment of your current state meetings program.


Please let me and your fellow readers know your thoughts on the similarities and differences between the roles and responsibilities of travel and meeting managers.  Do you think the skills and expertise from travel management are transferable to meetings management?  You can add your thoughts in the comments box directly below.


Also, if you would like to read more of these articles in the future, please submit the registration form below or in the upper right hand column to receive notices about my new articles by email.


Thanks for joining me!