It has been an incredibly long first day here at the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) conference in San Diego, as it always is. Attendance is tremendous so it has been a nonstop meet and greet.
For those who aren't familiar, the annual NBTA conference is an enormous event where corporate travel managers come to meet with travel suppliers. The whole point for the suppliers is to meet with existing clients to keep them happy and with potential clients to woo them. Each year, some suppliers go way over the top with crazy booths (Avianca's has 2 stories this year) and lavish parties (I made it to the Star Alliance one tonight but I never got to Starwood).
Corporate travel is big money, so they pull out all the stops. Here are some highlights of the day.
- I met with Dan McGinnity from TravelGuard, the large travel insurance and assistance company. They've been big with insurance for consumers for quite a while, but now they're aggressively moving into the corporate market - particularly with small to medium businesses - where they think they can do well.
- Next I met with ANA's Justin Massey. Justin is new to the airline, so he was simply reaching out to learn more about what interests me and tell me some of what they've been working on. He didn't have much to announce, but it sounds like there will be some changes to first and business class meal services along with something around a full flat bed in business. I couldn't get details, so stay tuned.
- After lunch, the exposition opened up and that's when the insanity began. The floor is huge, so it takes several days to visit everyone you want to see. I started at one end and slowly made my way through.
- First stop, buried way in the corner was the Joint Planning and Development Office which is part of the federal government. They're working on NextGen air traffic control, but I was curious why they were there. Apparently it was simply to tell the public about NextGen. Our tax dollars at work. (There were several other government agencies there as well.)
- Soon I was bouncing around from carrier to carrier. It was Eva Air first, then China Airlines followed by Aer Lingus and Avianca. Most of these visits are the same. There are usually sales people there, so they aren't really looking to talk to the media. They hand out pens and other goodies and that's that. Nobody was really announcing anything big this year . . . at least nobody I've spoken with so far.
- I took a break from airlines and visited with Kristie Van Auken and her crew at Akron-Canton Airport (affectionately and officially known as CAK). CAK has done a fantastic job at marketing and communication, and they've really been able to get some significant air service. I'll have more on this in a later post.
- Then it was off to AirTran followed by JetBlue. AirTran was having a paper airplane throwing contest, but JetBlue was much more effective. They had three rows of seats with their "even more legroom" product. I stood there and watched person after person sit in the seat astounded by the amount of legroom. Talk about letting the product speak for itself.
- As the afternoon dragged on, I stopped AirCell's booth to talk about GoGo wifi onboard the airplane. Of course, I wanted to know usage rates, but they weren't talking. Maybe I'll get it out of them one of these days.
- I stopped by an upbeat Midwest Airlines booth. Despite the continued layoffs, there was some optimism around Republic, the airline's new overlord. I snagged a famous Midwest cookie, and I got the impression that nobody really knows what's going to happen but there's a sense of excitement.
- At this point, the day was running long, so I made a beeline for the Star Alliance booth. I met with United's Robin Urbanski as well as several others. The 777 is still scheduled to start getting the new business class seats next February, but we'll see if that sticks. There was the obligatory discussion of United breaking guitars, of course, and then the exposition closed for the night.
- I was exhausted and my feet hurt, but I went over to the Star Alliance-hosted party across the street. It was a nice event in a wine bar with good food, and I spent a few hours talking to old colleagues, friends, and acquaintances from around the industry. None of that can be published here, of course.
- I was supposed to go to a Starwood party and have dinner with another group after, but I ran out of steam. I limped back at 10p and called it a night.