An Interview with Michael Farrell, SVP Events & Communications at World Travel, Inc.

In ancient Greece, the symposium was a forum for conversing, discussing, socializing, and planning. Everyone who was anyone was there, to enjoy discourse, entertainment, and plenty of fun.

For the past 15 years, World Travel, Inc. has been hosting Symposiums. And while the form of these events has changed considerably, the function is always the same.

“Our primary goal is to bring relevant, educational industry topics in front of our clients and prospective clients.”

Michael Farrell, Senior Vice President of Events and Communications, has been heading up Symposium orchestrations for eight years, and he took a moment to share where these twice-annual World Travel, Inc. events have been, and where they’re headed.

"Our latest Symposium - the successful event we held just last Thursday and Friday in New York City - welcomed 200 buyers. That's an impressive roster number, and amounts to almost 20% of GBTA attendance at the global convention. For a single TMC, we are thrilled with the ever-growing attendance at our event."

Give the people what they want.

“So many people hold conferences and events to be commercials for themselves, but World Travel, Inc. doesn’t take that approach. We acknowledge our role as a thought leader in the industry, and we bring ideas to our clients, so that they can become more educated in what they do every day, so that they can manage travel more effectively.”

The primary goal of each Symposium event is to educate. And World Travel, Inc. brings in speakers who will broaden the travel horizons and engage attendees with new and helpful information. But there’s also a secondary goal: networking. “Networking between World Travel, Inc. and our clients and prospective clients, definitely…. But so many of our clients have told us along the way that they enjoy the networking that takes place among the travel managers, and now that we’ve added the trade show component, the suppliers.”

There’s a widening target audience, as World Travel, Inc. continues to grow, surpassing the $1billion mark in transactions in 2014. While our clients' travel spend is in the mid-market range, their interests and needs vary greatly. But World Travel, Inc.’s leadership is preparing new ways to accommodate the ever-widening geographical audience.

“As you know, we’ve been doing Symposiums every spring and fall for at least the past eight years. But now, we have decided as a Senior Leadership Team to branch out and host supplementary Symposium events in additional markets. They’ll have the same set-up, but may start a bit smaller, with the possibility of growing into a match of what happens in New York.”

Those supplementary Symposium locations are, for now: Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, and Pittsburgh. The recent Boston event held in 2014 was one precipitator of this decision, as have been recent client acquisitions with an ever-widening footprint.

Content is King

When it comes to content, each Symposium is curated to address relevant, current, and informative subject matters. The Senior Leadership Team at World Travel, Inc. will meet several times and bounce ideas around, consulting with Marketing to vet the ideas, and taking client feedback.

“In fact, that’s one of the reasons we now have the trade show component at the Fall Symposium. In listening to feedback, we heard from clients that they wanted more time with suppliers. They wanted more of an opportunity to meet one-on-one.” The first Supplier Showcase at a Symposium, just a few years ago, included 20 suppliers. Now there are over 65 vendor tables.

Each Symposium is different – shaped by current industry challenges and the issues of the day. But everybody has their favorites. Farrell says, “My favorite Symposium yet was in New York City in 2011 when Tom Ridge was our Keynote Speaker.” Why? Because it had good balance. Mike is quick to reference the entertainment provided by Chesley Turner, Wilson Velazquez, and Jeff McAllister in the Millennium Theater. “I thought the content, the audience engagement, and the entertainment component – which is always a nice, added feature – came together best that year.”

As for stand-out presentations? “Can I have two? My favorite presentation ever was Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines, who spoke in Atlantic City. His unique perspective on the challenges of airline operations, mergers, and the importance of customer service really interested our attendees. The other was Peter Ricchiuti, who spoke in NYC in 2013. Anyone who was there for his economic run-down can remember - the whole room was cracking up!”

While Farrell admits that the prizes are a highlight of the day for attendees (“We gave away 56 prizes at our last Symposium, including multiple sets of business class airline tickets to phenomenal destinations.”) he maintains that the true reason people attend Symposium events is perfectly aligned with the purpose of the events: “To provide the most recent, unbiased insight into relevant industry news and topics, and to give an opportunity to network with us and with other travel managers.”

Yes. Work Can Be Fun.

World Travel, Inc. Symposiums come together with a lot of work, but each one is entirely handled by World Travel, Inc. employees. The Meetings & Incentives teams handles everything from registrations through logistics and working with the hotel on the BEO, and all team members pitch in to make sure the event is a complete and productive offering for clients and prospects.

“These are definitely not World Travel, Inc. self-serving events. These are client-facing events in which we have the best interest of the travel manager at heart. Each Symposium is planned with that in mind. Because of our staff and team, they are fun to do. Don’t get me wrong – they are completely stress-filled. It’s high-energy, and a lot of work goes into it, but we have fun doing it."

Coming Soon: Symposium:Boston Edition! Save the date, New Englanders, as we return to Boston on November 18, 2015.

Then, join World Travel, Inc. for the Spring Symposium on May 6, 2016 in Philadelphia at the Loews hotel in center city. You won’t want to miss it.

Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner