GBTA: Supporting the needs of its members
A conversation with Dave Hilfman, Interim Executive Director, Global Business Travel Association (GBTA)
The Global Business Travel Association has a new, interim executive director and Canadian Travel Press had the chance to talk with him recently. As Dave Hilfman tells it, like most organizations, the GBTA had to take a hard look at its operations and scale down accordingly. But that didn’t stop the association from continuing to work tirelessly for its members.
Not surprisingly, there has certainly been a lot of coverage of the impact of COVID-19 on the various travel industry sectors – airlines, cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents, etc. However, there hasn’t been much on how the pandemic has impacted industry associations. Can you talk a bit about how the coronavirus has impacted the Global Business Travel Association’s operations?
Like most organizations, we have had to take a hard look at our operations and scale down accordingly. We took a 30% reduction in the workforce, significantly reduced our costs and revised our strategy for the year.
GBTA had to cancel its annual convention in Denver, scheduled originally in July, and then moved to November. Unfortunately, the Denver Convention Center will be utilized as temporary medical facility through December 31, 2020 due to COVID-19.
Our strategy to support members during COVID-19 has included the following:
- We have issued 12-month memberships to all members who have lost their jobs or have been furloughed.
- We upgraded our travel job board for those who are out of work or who might be hiring during this time.
- We have been working tirelessly in our lobbying efforts – most successfully in the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that will be hugely beneficial to some of the cornerstones of our industry.
- We have new content on the GBTA website. We launched a new podcast, the GBTA Industry Forum Series, where we will talk to C-Level business travel leaders across the industry about the coronavirus, its effects on the industry, and the ways in which companies are responding.
- We have posted webinars and other informative professional development courses that we believe will be helpful to our members worldwide. All are easily accessible on our homepage gbta.org.
- We implemented an outreach programme, calling every member during the pandemic to offer our support and to see how GBTA may be able to help them.
We have run bi-weekly GBTA Canada, industry-wide town hall calls, featuring highlights on GBTA’s efforts, tools and resources to help support our industry through this crisis. In addition, we feature relevant subject matter-experts on topics that are critical to the Canadian business travel industry’s ability to navigate through Covid-19.
We hold bi-weekly, regional direct talk calls with Canadian travel buyer-only, to understand their evolving situation as it relates to business travel within their respective companies, and how and when they will begin to prepare for travel recovery. These regular communications with the travel buyer community help GBTA in Canada to coordinate our initiatives and delivery of content to ensure we are meeting the needs of companies in Canada during this crisis.
We have been issuing regular weekly communications to the Canadian business travel-industry-at-large, to communicate any tools, resources, content, education that will benefit the industry during this crisis.
We have ramped up communications with Canadian Government departments of: Global Affairs Canada, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Canadian Transportation Security Authority (CATSA), and created resource documents and relevant links, making available these as critical resources and information to keep our industry in Canada as up to date as possible, with Canadian government travel related Covid-19 information.
We have partnered with key Canadian travel industry sector stake holder groups, for increased sharing of information and coordinated efforts in helping to rebuild Canadian confidence in the travel ecosystem, for return to travel planning efforts. Sector stakeholder groups include:
- Hotel Association of Canada (HAC)
- Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA)
- Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators (ACCRO)
- International Air Transport Association (IATA)
- Canadian Airports Council (CAC)
I realize that you’ve just joined the association as its interim executive director and I’m wondering how you see your role in the current situation? What are your key goals in the short term?
My main objective is to support the needs of our members. I’ve been reaching out to a lot of people around the world and listening to their advice about how GBTA can best serve them going forward.
Obviously, the business travel industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and we need to support our buyer and supplier members to find the right solutions to business travel recovery.
We also need to help get people back to work. As the biggest global business travel association, we need to provide value to our members through education, networking, research, events (virtual at the moment).
Our advocacy program, lobbying governments in both the US and Europe has been key in finding financial support but also new legislation to support our members.
Our Advocacy efforts include:
Lobbying the US Congress and Administration to support the travel industry
The Issue: The US was in the beginning phases of shutting down the economy. Congress and the Administration were looking for solutions, all while working remotely.
Action: GBTA utilized its established network in the industry and Congress making phone calls, sending letters, text messages and emails to push for support of the four pillars of travel – air, hotel, agents and ground transportation.
Results: Passage of the $2 Trillion Cares Act on March 15.
AIRLINES: $25 billion in loans to air carriers and an additional $25 billion grants for airlines to use for paying employees.
Travel Agents/TMCs – inserted language into legislation to ensure the vertical had access to these funds.
Hotels, Franchises, Ground Transportation under 500 employees get access to PayCheck Protection Program (PPP) for retaining payroll and covering other operating costs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Supporting more funds and flexibility for PPP program
Issue: The PPP needed an infusion of cash and enhancements needed to occur so that businesses could access the funds and meet the requirements. Including
Increasing the maximum loan amount for the PPP loan program to cover eight months of payroll costs, form the current two months of payroll costs.
Extending the period of loan forgiveness – the covered period found in section 1106 – from June 30th to December 31st to allow the travel industry to more fully recover.
Reduce from 75 percent to 50 percent the percentage required to be spent on payroll costs and still be forgivable under the PPP loan program.
Action: GBTA worked with the Industry sending letters, GBTA made phone calls and emailed members of Congress to support changes
Results: passage and singing of Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act which included these fixes
Protecting businesses and industries from being sued by travelers for claims of contracting COVID19
Issue: Businesses and the travel industry are concerned of liability lawsuits claiming they were the reason for contraction of COVID19
Action: GBTA is pushing these concerns to Congress and seeking protections.
Enact temporary and limited in scoped liability protections for: (1) businesses, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions that work to follow applicable public health
Relieving airlines from their airport slots obligations
The issue: The EU ‘use-it-or-lose it’ rule has been forcing airlines to continue operating almost empty flights for fear of losing their rights over slots, with an exacerbating effect on airlines’ already strained finances.
Action: GBTA joined airlines in advocating for a temporary waiver of slots rules. We also reinforced the message in the European Parliament that travel will allow people and companies to reconnect after the crisis and will help the EU’s and global economies to resurrect.Results: At the end of March, the EU passed a new law to suspend slots obligations until 24 October 2020 – a victory for airlines and business travel.
Calling for EU coordinated measures to re-open travel The issue: The patchwork of travel restrictions and quarantine rules – and general lack of coordination at EU level – is set to become a deterrent to travel with travelers confused over what’s awaiting them when landing in an EU country.
Action: GBTA reached out to the EU Transport Commissioner to stress the sector’s concerns if EU Member States take an uncoordinated approach on reopening borders, allowing travel, and resuming events. We also joined forces with a broad-base alliance of travel, transport and tourism stakeholders to urge all 27 EU Member States governments to lift travel restrictions in a coordinated way, implement harmonised health and safety protocols, and carefully reflect before deciding whether all arrivals need to self-isolate.
Results: The European Commissioner herself took onboard the comments and insisted on the importance of giving people the confidence and ability to travel again. In May, the Commission released guidelines to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions. Several governments already declared that they will re-open their borders on 15 June and coordinate their approach based on the EU guidelines.
Maybe you can set the scene by explaining what the role of GBTA was before the coronavirus arrived and whether you see the role of the association changing as a result of COVID-19? And, if you do, how do you see it changing?
The fundamental role and objectives of the association haven’t changed during COVID-19. What has changed is the way we deliver content to our members and the additional initiatives we have introduced to support our members through the pandemic.
I’m excited in the plans we have to help our buyer members navigate the new normal of business travel. Our bi-weekly polls of members show that there are some green shoots of recovery and whilst recovery will take some time, I’m looking forward to working with our buyers to help get their travel programmes moving again.
In the current situation, we are not able to host any of our live face to face events so have moved a lot of our content online and introduced virtual webinars.
This online strategy will continue until the end of the year.
Next week, the GBTA’s interim executive director talks about the future of business travel and how the association is tracking the trends to find the way forward.