by Rob Hard
Sunday June 07 2009

Maritz Travel, St. Louis, and American Express Business Travel, New York City, recently announced the creation of a strategic alliance, launching MaXvantage to offer end-to-end strategic meetings management services. In their announcement, the two companies point to the heightened scrutiny related to budgets for corporate meetings and events, saying that their combined strengths will bring together expense management capabilities, strategic sourcing expertise and exceptional participant experiences.

“Executives know that meetings, events and incentive travel are critical components to executing their business strategy, but these activities have been under tremendous scrutiny since last fall. MaXvantage is designed to enable corporations to feel confident continuing their investment in these highly valued programs,” said Christine Duffy, president and chief executive officer of Maritz Travel. “The practices of strategic meetings management have brought about a convergence of corporate travel and meetings, events and incentive travel. This is the perfect time for American Express Business Travel and Maritz Travel to come together to provide an end-to-end solution.”

Duffy has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the meetings industry during a year when the events industry has been heavily criticized (see Opening General Session, MeetDifferent 2009 video).

But in an interview with, Hervé Sedky, vice president and general manager of Global Business Partnerships, Advisory Services and Corporate Meetings Solutions, American Express Business Travel, indicated that the (USD) $124 billion meetings and events category has not been historically managed, with just about 5% to 10% of companies now effectively managing the spend. “Clearly given the economic environment where chief purchasing officers and other financial executives are looking for the next realm of savings, this is one that captures their attention,” Sedkey said, adding that his strategy will be to work through the chief purchasing officers to implement changes with meeting management.

Although there is certainly room to improve how the spend associated with corporate meetings and incentives is managed (and many other areas), such a reference to corporate events being under-managed grossly underestimates the effective management of programs that are organized by corporate and association event planners. It may seem more appropriate to clarify that only 5-10% of the spend may be captured under a single cost center or directly tracked by some travel or procurement departments.

Still, effective procument and event planning strategies are cascaded and implemented throughout organizations. And the business areas that sponsor and organize a range of meetings frequently recognize that successful strategies are being used to implement such programs.

I’m also certain that many of those who plan meetings in their companies work closely with already overworked procurement teams who help negotiate everything from food and beverage to audio visual to guest rooms to ground transportation and more for hundreds of meetings each year.

To be sure, the effective management of corporate and incentive meetings is important, and Sedky acknowledged that companies are searching for ways to be more strategic and transparent int heir meetings programs in the press release that announced the MaXvantage launch.

The alliance is subject to the execution of the final documentation which the parties expect to complete shortly.