From the DTJ Archives: GovTravels 2019 Provides Value, Context, Opportunities for the Government Travel Community

Feb 11, 2020 | DTJ Online

The 2020 GovTravel Symposium is just two weeks away—taking place 24-26 February at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. If you are still undecided about whether or not to attend or simply want to prepare for this year’s event, we have put together this recap of last year’s conference. The perspective GovTravels provides is unparalleled by any other event and we hope you will make it a priority to attend.


The fourth annual GovTravels Symposium, co-sponsored by NDTA and the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO), was held February 25-27, 2019, at the Hilton Mark Center Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. The conference theme—Empower. Engage. Innovate.—emphasized the complexities of the government traveler as teaming to study the similarities and innovate the solutions to improve the experience.

The Symposium brought together more than 600 individuals and 70 organizations, making it the largest GovTravels event to date. Participants included attendees from passenger travel and related services from federal and state governments, and the private sector. As the only event where decision-makers from these particular groups come together to meet, learn and collaborate on common travel issues, GovTravels offers a unique opportunity for the travel community.


Setting the Stage
NDTA President and CEO, Admiral William A. Brown, USN (Ret.), served as the master of ceremonies. During introductory remarks, he set the tone for the event saying, “our goal over the next two days of GovTravels is to promote communication among all the stakeholders—government and in the private sector—whose job it is to support the safe and efficient travel of our government travelers.”

Mr. William R. Mansell, Jr., Director of DTMO, took the stage and explained the importance of the Symposium to his organization, “The Defense Travel Management Office serves as the single focal point for commercial travel within the Department of Defense. We establish strategic direction, establish policy, and centrally manage commercial travel programs. At $9 billion of spend annually, we are responsible for about 60 percent of the federal government’s travel spend. With an enterprise that large, it is easy to appreciate the value in a forum where government and the travel industry are actively engaged and able to exchange ideas, and explore new technology solutions, learn about the latest trends and study best practices.”


A Comprehensive Schedule
The conference schedule consisted of classes, keynote speeches, roundtable discussions, and breakout sessions that explored topics such as regulations, technology, shared challenges, and possible solutions. The professional program was a collaborative effort created with input from a variety of stakeholders including DTMO, the General Services Administration (GSA), NDTA, its industry members and, in particular, members from its Government Passenger Travel Advisory Council (GPTAC).

In conjunction with the Symposium, NDTA also hosted a full-scale exposition, where organizations highlighted their travel solutions and offerings. In addition, the exhibit hall allowed attendees a space to share information with one another and grow their professional networks. With 19 sponsors and 50 exhibitors, the exhibition—like the Symposium—had record-high participation.

By all accounts, the fourth annual GovTravels Symposium accomplished its goal to promote communication among its stakeholders. It also succeeded in being an important opportunity for attendees to work together and expand their professional knowledge. As this event continues to grow and evolve, GovTravels has firmly cemented its position as a “can’t miss” event within the travel community.


The Combat Enablers
Putting the importance of GovTravels attendees into perspective, Mr. William H. Booth, Director of the Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA), began his keynote speech on day two of the Symposium by telling the audience, “every one of you in this room is dedicated to making sure that those individuals—men and women—that are the pointed end of the spear can execute mission when their mission needs to be executed to keep this nation safe. That’s what you do—you’re all combat enablers.”

Mr. Booth described the impact the defense travel enterprise can have through the example of the SmartPay3 Government Travel Charge Card. When he questioned the audience about who had to receive a new credit card during the recent transition from SmartPay2 to SmartPay3, no one raised their hand. This, he stated, was due to the hard work of the DTMO team.

Mr. Booth explained that there are approximately 1.8 million charge cardholders. When the transition to the new program was first announced, each was expected to have to get a new card. This would mean each cardholder is spending around 10 minutes to activate their cards, set-up new accounts online and perform other maintenance tasks. In addition, reissuing new cards would have cost Citibank three to five dollars per card. This means DTMO’s efforts to eliminate having to reissue cards effectually saved 300,000 man-hours and $5 million.

Implementing seemingly small changes can make a huge difference when you are talking about governance of a $9 billion a year enterprise—and that is one-point Mr. Booth emphasized, especially as it relates to work being done to modernize the enterprise. The modernization work is being implemented through deliberate steps forward, and with stakeholders’ opinions and needs being taken into account.


Creating Powerful Impressions, Experiences
The second day of GovTravels continued with a panel, Progress Report – Government Travel at the Crossroads One Year Later, led by Mr. Tony D’Astolfo, Senior Vice President, North America, Serko, Ltd. Mr. D’Astolfo gave an introduction to frame the discussion that considered how the most powerful companies in the world—Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Uber—can impact government travel. Consumers would describe these companies as cool, simple, handy, convenient, personal, fast, smart, etc. He asked the audience to consider what emotions or words would be used to describe them or the services they provided, and subsequently if they would like to change how they are thought of.

He continued that in thinking more broadly of the lifecycle of a trip mindful of the touchpoints, one should consider how to turn big data into small, powerful experiences, aspire to serve in ways that create powerful impressions and contemplate the customer needs before they do.

Panelists Scott Smith, Program Manager, Department of Defense Travel Modernization; Jamie Kiser, Vice President, Global Services Operations, SAP Concur; Don Moore, Vice President Business Rental Sales and Global Corporate Accounts, Enterprise Holdings; Erika Moore, Vice President and General Manager USA Sales, Travelport; and Nick Vournakis, President, Military and Government Markets, CWTSato Travel, represented a cross-section of the travel industry and government.

Personalized experiences were said to be at the center of travel expectations. Personalized experiences, making it easy and being able to apply predictive analytics to patterns of behaviors, must be at the forefront of the government travel focus.

Business travel as an industry is unique in dealing with travelers as both consumers and employees, so there must be a smarter governor in place to ensure the needs of our Service members and travelers are met and that all of this is done a context that makes it near error-proof.

Business travel has changed tremendously, putting more emphasis on the traveler and the need to remove friction from their trips. This often results in giving travelers more flexibility to determine what is right for them. Enabling technologies are also providing travelers with more capabilities to self-serve.

With government travel, a tech-enabled traveler-first approach can work, despite a more rigid need to manage expenses, comply with policies and directives, and maintain a strict duty of care. Government and military members travel as stewards of the government and their expectations for their travel experience reflect this thinking.

In many cases, progress on the business side has evolved because businesses have reached out to travel providers to create a product that meets their needs. This is something that would likely benefit government organizations, as being more engaged would help to ensure suppliers can implement ways to meet their needs at earlier phases of development.

Technology advances at a rapid pace and workforce demographics are changing, and today’s travel programs must evolve to keep pace. Over time everyone will become a digital native and the need to provide travelers choice will increase. Members of the travel community must embrace change or risk being left behind. But this needs to consider the objective while balancing the personalized experience and expectations.

Upselling is a major focus for suppliers and a top travel trend. Managed programs help mitigate this by setting parameters to what can be sold or offered to travelers. It is the responsibility of the entire travel ecosystem to ensure the correct offerings are made based on policies.


The 4th Industrial Revolution
The day continued with industry keynote, Mr. Dominic Delmolino, Federal Services Chief Technology Officer at Accenture, who spoke about the 4th Industrial Revolution and Its Impact on the Travel Industry. The 4th Industrial Revolutions is characterized by breakthrough technology such as AI, robotics, IoT, 3-D Printing, nanotechnology, precision medicine, and so much more.

Mr. Demolino explained customers are now starting to apply what they have in their personal lives to what they have in their professional lives. Their expectation is for things to run seamlessly.

Digital has altered everything and many believe we are now entering the post-digital era where digital and physical worlds are merging.

There are some real challenges facing travel services marketing, including greater competition, more disruption, many new entrants to the market due to lower barriers to entry, modernization challenges pf existing systems, and dramatic changes to the customer segment.

With the challenges come opportunities. Organizations should take advantage of all the data being created in order to make better predictions, as well as to do things like A/B testing. To do this, organizations must be willing to forgo gut reaction decision making for data-driven decision making. Information also allows experiences to be tailored to travelers’ personal preferences and needs, but there is a fine line between utilizing consumer data and not being invasive. Transparency on what data is collected and how it is used helps with this. With information collection, care must be taken to protect data.

Modern systems are designed to be person-based and AI helps with this. Systems are powerful enough to adapt to humans versus humans having to adapt to systems. Systems adapt both for travelers and for travel service providers’ work.


Category Management Drives Government Procurement
On the final day of the 2019 GovTravels Symposium, Mr. Tim Burke, Director, Office of Travel, Employee Relocation and Transportation, Federal Acquisition Service, General Services Administration (GSA) took the stage as the keynote speaker to address the issue of Government-Wide Category Management.

Category management principles are driving how the government procures. Principles include increased spend under management, reduced contract duplication, administrative savings volume savings created by leveraging the buying power of the Federal Government, enhanced transparency, shared best practices, better contract vehicles and purchases, and efficient contract management process for suppliers. These are at the forefront of the analysis and the priorities being executed.

The goal is for the Federal government to buy common goods and services as an enterprise to eliminate redundancies, increase efficiency, and deliver more value and savings from the government’s acquisition programs. By the end of FY 2020, the government will achieve $18 billion in savings for taxpayers.

The government‘s category management strategy will focus on its top 10 categories of spend. This equates to $325 billion annually in common goods and services that can be optimized and leveraged across the enterprise. Opportunities targeted for improved efficiencies will be evidence-based—driven by strong data analysis, benchmarking, and inter-agency collaboration. Additionally, enhanced industry and supplier engagement are key to the end-to-end travel environment and travel management services.

GSA’s key travel initiatives for the next 1-2 years will be heavily focused on lodging and Transportation Management Companies (TMCs). DOD has two major initiatives emerging that can shape future opportunities government-wide, including the privatization of Household Goods (HHG) and the Defense Travel System (DTS) modernization.


Managing Cyber Risk
The final general session of the GovTravels Symposium, Managing Cybersecurity Risk in Government, was led by Mr. Ted Rybeck, Chair of NDTA’s Cybersecurity Best Practices Committee. Panelists included Philip Benjamin, Deputy Director of DTMO; Vicki Michetti, Director of the Cyber Security Policy Strategy International and Defense Industrial Base Engagement for the DOD Chief Information Officer (CIO); Jack Norwood, Director of Cyber Intelligence Center for Citibank; and Joe Blanchette, Information Systems Security Officer at Maersk Line, Limited.

Mr. Rybeck established the direction of the presentation, telling the audience that cyber attacks are not about one company, but rather about everyone working together. He then gave some examples of cyber attacks, as well as cyber best practices including an overview of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 800-171 compliance requirements for federal contractors. [Check out information on NIST 800-171 on NDTA’s website.]

Mr. Blanchette to walk the audience through his experience of a cyber attack. His bottom-line takeaway for the audience was the importance for organizations to have good business continuity plans. Mr. Benjamin wanted everyone to understand that cyber attacks and malicious cyber activity will happen. DTMO shares its requirements with its partners and they expect compliance. He also emphasized the importance of the recovery process. He described the recovery process as being a very collaborative decision-making process that requires good communication among the decision-makers.

Ms. Michetti provided perspective on cybersecurity as it related to the GovTravels audience, “when I look at the hospitality industry, you are all an enabler of the DOD’s warfighting mission and you also have critical information that requires protection whether it’s in your own networks or it’s in the services that you’re providing to the Department of Defense. That information has to be protected just like we need to protect the designs of the F-35.”

The US is unique in that the private sector actually does a vast majority of DOD activity. DOD has a multipronged approach to cybersecurity within the Defense Industrial Base which consists of the Cyber Threat Information Sharing Program, as well as a variety of contractual and regulatory obligations.

Throughout the comments, it was a common thread that many attacks occurred through intrusions into smaller organizations ’ connect networks. While smaller organizations did not have the same resources, Mr. Norwood felt smaller organizations had an advantage in being able to respond more quickly to attacks. He recommended small companies perform cyber “fire drills.” When it comes to cybersecurity, the presenters made it absolutely clear that preparations are critical.


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