Is ACTE Headed in the Right Direction?

ACTE sketched out several initiatives this week from its global conference in Berlin. These efforts hope to:

Two weeks earlier, ACTE announced its intent to form an angel investor network geared to funding new travel industry innovations.

Looks like Ron DiLeo, ACTE’s new Executive Director, is wasting little time trying to put ACTE on a “wake up and shake up the industry” course.  Gotta agree that our industry needs new thinking and fresh talent.  Can’t argue with expanding the global perspectives of most anyone in a global industry.

But I’m somewhere between skeptical and really annoyed at ACTE, or any other group, trying to certify consultants.  I’ve asked Ron to provide his thinking behind this initiative, and will write again on Friday about this.

What’s your opinion on ACTE’s new initiatives?  Are these the most important issues for a global travel industry association to tackle? Or is ACTE straying too far from its core values of providing timely education and excellent networking?

Is this deep thinking about what the industry needs, or just “throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks”?

How do these efforts complement, or compete, with those from NBTA?

Most importantly, what do buyers and suppliers really need that they are not getting – but could – from their industry associations?

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9 thoughts on “Is ACTE Headed in the Right Direction?

  1. Scott, you raise good points, thanks for speaking out.

    Regarding the consultant certification, I have seen internal auditors, supply chain specialists and other inexperienced consultants try to consult on travel and meetings. I experienced it first hand. They often came to me to edit their work when they had no idea in the first place that travel and meetings are different than other services. I saw $$$ worth of consultant deliverables presented to large corporations that included numerous errors. More recently, I saw an IT consulting firm writing SLAs for a large meeting and events program. For those reasons, I think the consultant certification may lend support to those of us in the industry who do understand this complex industry.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Scott, you’ve asked a good question regarding why a travel association should initiate a travel consultant certification program. I think ACTE’s initiative to find young talent within the travel industry and launch a University accredited learning program are excellent ideas. However, I’m not too sure you can develop a consulting program that would certify and assist individuals who want to launch careers in travel consulting. When I think of the consultants that I know in the industry, they’ve gained their reputations by being individuals who have a vast amount of knowledge concerning travel management issues. These are people who might have worked on both the supplier and direct side of the business and have a sound basis of knowledge concerning all things travel. They’ve accumulated a lot of experience and knowledge over an extended career and this is what gives them their credibility. It’s one thing to take a series of courses to learn how to consult but it’s a far different thing to really understand the complexity of the travel industry and provide expert knowledge that can “make or break” a company’s program. Would a new consulting graduate from ACTE understand the issues companies face trying to control and manage travel if they have a minimal amount of experience within the industry? – that would be a question I would need to feel comfortable with before seeking a newly minted consultant’s advice.

  3. Debi and Mark,

    What very different, yet complimentary, views you two have of this issue!

    No doubt about it, Debi – there are a lot of consultants from non-travel backgrounds that are cutting their teeth on their first travel project. Not fun for the client, and sometimes ends up badly for all involved. Lack of subject matter expertise is hard to hide. You’d like a credentialing program to weed out the know-nothings.

    Mark, you’re spot on by recognizing the core value of a good consultant – someone who has years of experience, combined with talent for making insightful observations and wise suggestions. I take Mark’s point to be that no amount of studying for a test is ever going to be a substitute for gray-haired wisdom. More to the point, passing a test does not a good consultant make.

    We’re all agreed that no one wants a bad consultant. ACTE has proposed an initiative involving certifying consultants. Is this a good way to go? Here are the questions I put to Ron DiLeo:

    * Why consultants, as opposed to TMCs, or rental cars, or black cars, or data reporting providers, or GDSs?
    * What is this credentialing designed to do – protect the buyers from fraud? Malpractice? Bad advice?
    * What evidence (read market research) is there to justify the need for consulting credentials?
    * Where, specifically, is the free market failing the buyers on the issue of contract language and fees?
    * Did anyone involved in this idea look at the broader management consulting industry for best practices on this issue?
    * Why a test of knowledge, as opposed to checking a consultant’s references?
    * What gives you hope that an association could impose a standard contract for consulting services?

    Ron has promised to come back with his views within a couple of days. Stay tuned!

  4. Hi Scott, great questions raised and as a consultant myself, I’m keen to hear how this debate evolves. Although I consult mainly with TMC’s and travel technology companies, as opposed to corporate buyers, regardless of who is purchasing the consultating engagement there is no substitute for a great amount of due diligence. I fully agree with Debi that there are too many instances of using consultants and consultancies with quasi-related skills to travel procurement, which often end up wasting the time and money of not only the corporation that hired them, but the TMC’s, technology companies and suppliers who bid on the company’s program. In addition, I also agree with Mark in that you can’t really consult without experience, otherwise you’re just doing “busy work” in my mind. The basic definition of consultant is an EXPERT who gives advice, and I would argue that it’s universally understood that an expert have a significant amount of proven experience. Which is my point around due diligence – it’s certainly caveat emptor if a travel buyer doesn’t fully validate and confirm the bona fides and references of a consultant or consultancy. The defition of “proven experience” also needs to be part of the validation process, as the buyer alone has the responsibility to define the metrics of success for a consulting engagement and match potential candidates to those criteria. I do think there is a role for ACTE to play in all this, if nothing else Ron’s efforts have (just by the very nature of your blog posting and my comments!) raised this as an issue which should be debated in our industry if nothing else. Beyond that, I might suggest to Ron that perhaps ACTE look at establishing a solid and useful framework for buyers to use when attempting to validate a consultant’s work – this could be through a networking / feedback site on which allows buyers to recommend consultants, taking a page out of LinkedIn perhaps? In any case, again as an industry consultant who’s confident about his background and expertise, I’d be more than happy to participate in an ACTE-sponsored affiliation or validation program – otherwise my above comments would be just slightly hypocritical!

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  6. (The comment below comes from Michael Tangney, Google’s travel manager. His comment was posted originally to the NBTA Discussion Group on LinkedIn. Michael was recently named European Travel Manager of the Year by Business Travel News.)

    Hi Scott
    I read your article separately but figure comments here might be good for discussion (feel free to repost on your blog if you wish). As someone who has only been “in” travel for 2 and a bit years I have a different perspective on this.
    Looking for new talent is admirable but training people to think the way the industry thinks is not going to help new ideas be generated…. much better if you are looking for a seismic shift to be looking to bring people with complimentary skills from other industries young and old – Technology, Social, Sourcing, Marketing, Outsourcing, Project managers etc.

    Consulting in that respect is very similar.
    If a buyer uses the wrong consultant that is not primarily the consultants fault it is the Buyers for not putting a robust filter in place… and the Buyers already know the industry so I don’t think a certification would help greatly.

    • Mike, I agree with you on the need to bring in new perspectives into the industry. The industry needs to evolve and we cannot do that without new perspectives and experiences from other industries and functional areas. I also agree that it is up to the buyer of the consulting service to evaluate whether or not a particular consultancy’s qualifications fit with the outcome they desire for the engagement. I’m not sure how ACTE could structure a “qualification” for all of the areas that travel may need consulting services.

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