Experts make sense of changing landscape at CWT Exchange

Industry experts gathered to share their knowledge and opinions at CWT’s annual client conference, CWT Exchange, in November. This year the event was held at the luxurious InterContinental hotel at the O2, London, and attendees included travel managers and meeting planners.


Back again as host was BBC reporter Steph McGovern, who set the tone of the day by announcing breaking news as soon as she stepped on stage. Firstly, on a personal level, Steph revealed she had just become a presenter of Watchdog. Secondly, she announced the High Court had ruled that the Government required parliamentary approval to trigger article 50 to leave the EU.


The event theme, Navigating Changing Landscapes, seemed particularly pertinent in light of this news and the on-going uncertainty over Brexit. Referring to our keynote speaker, ITV business and economics editor Robert Peston, who was with us to talk about the implications of Brexit, Steph quipped: “What a day to have him here!”


Navigating a changing landscape himself was CWT UK & Ireland’s new country director Johan Wilson, who had been in the job only two days when he took to the stage to welcome attendees and explain the event theme further. With economic, political and technological shifts taking place at an unprecedented rate, the aim was to consider how we could evolve to meet those challenges and stay agile.


Johan also announced that CWT had launched a new strategy that would see the company align its focus, investment and people “to build the first really global TMC in the world”.


Despite the morning’s news, a second Brexit referendum was unlikely, said Robert Peston. He told attendees: “We should all plan with the assumption that we are on the way out.”


He also predicted that sterling had further to fall, which is a concern for business travel as currency is vitally important.


The past year has been turbulent, not only politically but also in the face of terror attacks and the Zika virus. Two speakers tackled the issue of risks facing travellers. Tim Willis, security director of Northern Europe for International SOS, challenged organisations to understand the difference between perceived risk and actual risk, and to plan accordingly.


Rich Davis, managing director of global security at United Airlines, captivated attendees with revelations about how airlines work constantly to improve security and develop countermeasures after every incident.


“Historic incidents affect all of you every time you travel,” he said.


After an excellent lunch, attendees gathered again to hear Geraldine Valenti, of CWT Solutions Group, speak about how data can be used to improve the individual traveller experience.


She was followed by travel expert Lorraine Jacobs, VP corporate sales & development at Travelport, who spoke about the future of global travel distribution systems and the benefits of embracing change.


Next it was time for attendees to get more involved at their choice of two of three workshops. Everyone came together again for ‘The Big Question’, a debate with panellists from CWT, United Airlines, Travelport, Enterprise and IHG. Delegates used the CrowdCompass app to suggest themes.


After an informal drinks reception, attendees left Exchange brimming with information to guide them as they navigate the changing face of corporate travel.