Journey to the BTA Conference 2023

the talk from Antwerp as told by our Marketing Consultant, Sonam Popat

A Trip to Antwerp

On 11 September, hundreds of business travel professionals descended upon the picture-postcard town of Antwerp in Belgium for two days of insightful discussions at the BTA Autumn Conference 2023. The Hilton hotel in Antwerp Old Town was the place to be – delegates travelled to the diamond capital from far and wide, their journeys across Europe provided by conference partners Eurostar and Thalys.

One of these delegates was our very own Marketing Consultant Sonam Popat, a member of the BTA Generation Board. We caught up with her to learn more about the conference. What were the hot topics? Were there any key takeaways? And what was the food like? Read on to find out.

Hello Sonam! First off, can you tell us a bit more about the Business Travel Association (BTA)

The Business Travel Association (BTA) is the representative association for the business travel community and travel management companies like Gray Dawes. Their objective is to raise the profile of the vital role business travel plays in the broader economy. And it is a vital role – according to findings in one of their recent whitepapers, business travel contributed £27.5 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy and supported 283,500 full-time equivalent jobs. So it goes without saying that their work is crucial within business travel. 

They are also responsible for organising leading industry events, commissioning surveys, and compiling research on topics ranging from sustainability to the impact of remote business meetings.

Then there’s the advisory Generation BTA Board of which I am a part of. The board has 13 members,  representing different Travel Management Companies. Our main objective is to raise the profile of the business travel industry and to bring in new, diverse and inclusive talent from across the world.

Findings from the BTA

the gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy by business travel

number of jobs in the hotel service sectors supported by business travel


percentage of SMEs in a recent survey that travelled for business in 2022

So what was this year’s BTA conference all about?

The conference was a brilliant opportunity for everyone to learn what was new in the industry and provided attendees with a host of networking opportunities. As there were over 100 delegates from a range of travel management companies, airlines, hotels, and ground transportation services, there was certainly a lot to learn from one another. 

Over the two days there was a diverse agenda of eye-opening sessions followed by evening dinners – the first of which was hosted by Avis Budget Group. After a full day of talks and presentations, conversations at the dinner table fizzed with ideas and insights fuelled by the absolutely delicious food we were served!

“When I look back at those 18 months of turmoil, I see camaraderie. We actually spoke to each other, we brainstormed, we worked together. Now we’re competing again, chasing results and we don’t have the time.

“Do we let outside influences define our industry until the next Covid happens and we get back in our huddle? Our voice needs to be even louder than it was during the pandemic. We need to ensure business travel is represented and understood and we don’t lose the momentum we’ve got from the last three years.”

– Suzanne Horner, BTA Conference 2023

Finally, what were the hot topics and key takeaways from the conference?

Though I have been in the industry for a few years, I’m still new to the BTA and didn’t know a lot of the other delegates there. The conference was therefore the perfect opportunity to meet new people and to raise awareness of the Generation Board.

I attended as many sessions as I could over the two days. I found the topic of artificial intelligence in business travel super interesting and very pertinent in the context of current news surrounding the rise of AI. I also enjoyed a presentation about creating a diverse and inclusive work culture in business travel – this is a hot topic across the industry and is something that Gray Dawes are passionate about.

The key topics from the BTA Conference

AI in Business Travel

AI will help improve customer experiences and increase efficiency. Plus, with the right data, personalisation can really become personal.

The real added value of AI lies in the level of knowledge and real time advice it can impart without the time or cost of replicating this manually. AI simplifies complex travel decisions, shortens the buying process, cuts processing costs and delivers a much more personalised experience for the traveller. There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence is here to stay.

TMC CEO Panel Discussion

CEOs from 3 different TMCS discussed the industry and what they have started to see. The main take away was that we’ve proved that a TMC is essential. We’ve all seen an increase in travel bookings. Customers look to us not just for service excellence but for new ideas and advice. We’ve become quite ingrained in a lot of procurement teams more so than before.

The biggest priority for all TMCs remains duty of care. Customers are asking ‘what if’ scenarios, in order to ensure they are prepared for anything.

The conference was also a great opportunity to spread the word about an event the Generation BTA Board have planned next year. It will be designed with people new to the business travel industry in mind, giving them an opportunity to learn and realise their full potential. All I can say about that for now is “watch this space”…

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