No fee, more gains?

A free association for corporate travel managers has been formed, challenging the traditional paid membership model. Find out if this idea is sustainable

The traditional model of trade associations based on membership subscription, sponsorship dollars and registration fees is being challenged with one organisation dangling free carrots to attract members with purchasing power.

In June 2019, the Corporate Travel Community (CTC) was formed to only target corporate travel managers – a community that generates an estimated annual US$1.3 trillion spend – with free membership, free event attendance and access to other free services.

CTC is backed by Informa – which owns UBM, the organiser of international events in many business sectors, and intelligence and scholarly research brands. The aim is to create a large and vibrant travel buyer community, help travel managers progress in their day-to-day work, finetune their travel programmes and take them to a new level in their professional careers.

A month later, UK events organiser Connections, formed in 2014, announced it was launching an invitation-only international private community for senior executives in the high-end travel industry in 2020.

Leveraging on signature events around the world, the new exclusive Connections community will be offering a range of opportunities to interact at events, online and via social media, according to a company statement. No other details were available at press time.

Corporate travel managers polled welcomed CTC’s formation.

Peter Koh, Asia strategic sourcing manager, Travel and Professional Services, Corning Singapore Holdings, commended CTC for being a “very innovative idea” and described its “neutral” stance with no sponsorship bias at events as a “good” thing.

However, a US-based director of global events of an association in the finance industry, who did not wish to be named, questioned the sustainability of the CTC model.

“What’s in it for Informa apart from the recognition of bringing value to the corporate travel community?” she asked.

In the scientific field, B V R Chowdari, president of the Materials Research Society of Singapore (MRS Singapore), said for the past 20 years, the entry of private organisers running conferences had made it tougher for the association.

Chowdari, organiser of the biennial International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technology (ICMAT), commented that the association had “to make some money” from its signature event in order to offer grants to local universities to conduct research.

“The number of conferences has increased by a lot and every week I get an invitation to take part, perhaps to leverage on what MRS Singapore has achieved and ICMAT event content,” he said, adding that getting the numbers, offering quality content and organising financially sustainable events were issues the association had to manage.

Perry Shum, conference council chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Photonics Society, which has 4,000 global members, believed the CTC model would be sustainable because its membership data was valuable.

He believes that both new and traditional association models can survive.

“I think the traditional model will attract serious members while associations that are free (the new model) can attract more people,” said Shum. “In our case, what is most important to our Singapore members is to make it to the senior member grade, become a fellow and be recognised.”

In a recent commentary, Martin Sirk, the new international advisor of the Global Association Hubs Partnership, said: “Members are not economically-rational shareholders. As long as their association is financially stable, ‘profit’ is not what they are looking for.

“I suggest that associations need to come up with new metrics to determine their strategic investment decisions, especially when it comes to expanding their presence and influence globally.”


This article was first published in TTGassociations October 2019, a sister publication of TTGmice

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