Gregory Dukat, CEO of meetings management
technology supplier StarCite, spoke recently with Business
Travel News senior associate editor Michael B. Baker
about blossoming corporate interest in strategic meetings
financial, and also we’ve had tremendous success with
oil and gas. We’re also announcing a quick-start. The
idea is that we’ll have preconfigured solutions based on
our years of experience to help these organizations in
life sciences or in financial better control the regulated
side and aspects of their business. The first templates
will be for life sciences, rolled out at NBTA.
management and recent developments within the firm.
Business Travel News: Is meetings demand close to return-
ing to pre-recession levels?
Gregory Dukat: I don’t think we’re all the way back to
pre-recession levels, but we’re at levels where we were
in the early stages of the recession. Things are certainly
up from where they were a year to a year-and-a-half
ago. The transactions are higher within our current set
of customers. They have made the tough decisions to
say, we can no longer afford to let this spend category
hang out there and not be controlled for security reasons, compliance reasons and financial reasons.
security reasons, they know where people are, how to
get them home safely and all kinds of things.
BTN: Is the economy still driving more buyers to examine
strategic meetings management?
Dukat: As a matter of fact, we are enjoying one of the
best years in the company’s history relative to new customers requiring a solution. We continue to have an
extremely high renewal rate for our existing customers, and the deployment within our existing customers is increasing dramatically. It’s driving people to
the next phase. Last year, they were thinking about it.
They’re taking action on it this year, and we’ve really
been successful. It falls in line with the requests we’ve
had from suppliers. We’ve evaluated the partnerships
we had and made some tough choices to disengage
with some that didn’t fulfill that promise. Then, we
initiated partnerships with new partners that helped
fulfill that promise and strengthened existing partnerships. We had an announcement with a strong alliance
with Experient. We continue to have a strong partnership with the major travel management companies.
We’ll be announcing at the National Business Travel
Association annual convention this month an Orbitz
for Business relationship, where they’ll have access to
our marketplace. Use of our tool for spend management and requests for proposals is up by more than 80
percent year over year, and that’s a great thing for us,
so we’re excited about that. It just validates the value of
BTN: What new developments are on the horizon for
Dukat: What we’ve heard from our corporate customers over and over was really three things: They
want visibility to all meetings, they wanted to deploy
this solution in a global fashion with best practices,
and they really want to have a system that will allow
them to grow to best in class. We partnered with the
National Business Travel Association for a maturity
model, which allows our clients to start and have a
path to being best in class. What’s unique is that we’re
the only folks that can take a customer from starting
very small all the way up to best practices with a global
rollout and a very valid and robust supplier network
that responds to the demand. It will help the customers kind of quantify where they are in the model and
how they can move through it successfully. Many
of our customers started very low on the maturity
model, and we have all these case studies of customers
that have been successful moving this all the way to
a global deployment. The other aspect is we have had
many customers in verticals that have regulations and
requirements around them. Some of our top verticals are pharmaceutical, life sciences if you will, and
BTN: Have you already been testing these with clients?
Dukat: They’ve been developed directly with customers. It was fostered by the work we’ve already done
with customers. It’s a real solution that has a real
company using them, and we’ve essentially taken what
we’ve developed for these clients and now we’re pro-ductizing it and introducing it at the event.
BTN: How do you see remote conferencing’s role in the
meetings industry developing?
Dukat: Videoconferencing is still a major requirement,
and it’s really become important as an offering in a
blended approach. We’re not seeing live meetings go
away in favor of videoconferencing. What we’re seeing
is people who have some attendees who can come
via videoconference and some attendees who need to
be live, so it allows them to better analyze and better
maximize the spend around a meeting and make a
decision. The need is up, and a lot of our hotel partners
have a solution that they’re building as centers for this.
BTN: Have you seen a growth in interest for meetings
cards as a payment option?
Dukat: Absolutely. It’s a piece of controlling that visibility, and it does close the loop relative to compliance and security. We’re definitely seeing an uptick, so
much so that American Express wanted to renew for
a long-term duration an exclusive relationship. We’re
very pleased with that as well.
Following the announcement last month by ARC president
and CEO David R.B. Collins that he would retire in
one year, he spoke with BTN editor-in-chief David Meyer
about his time with the U.S. airline bank settlement and
BTN: To what do you attribute that growth?
Dukat: Many of our corporate clients have put mandates in place. Several large multinationals said to
their teams that any meeting over $10,000 needs to
be sourced, no ifs, ands or buts, through the StarCite
solution. That tells us these folks for the first time are
serious about getting their hands around their spend.
The other thing is the new customer attraction we’ve
had. This is arguably one of our best years ever in new
customer wins. We had two of the world’s largest oil
and gas companies, and neither of these have an oil
spill that they’re cleaning up. The use within our existing customers is going way up, which will lead to more
quality business for the suppliers. That’s what brings
the value to the constituents, and that’s why they’re
interested in the platform.
data management organization and the changes he has
witnessed along the way.
flexible way for people to do business. If we didn’t
provide that, I don’t think that we’d be in business now.
I felt then and I feel now that ARC is a very important
factor in helping everybody do business with each
other. Being a settlement organization is obviously the
core of it all, but I have wondered at times if change is
so dramatic that will people go to other ways of doing
business. The challenge for us is to make sure that we
evolve and change so that we still help them do business in a very efficient way.
BTN: Did the volcanic ash incident stir up further interest?
Dukat: We had a customer advisory event in Boca
Raton, and one key aspect the customers mentioned
was that one reason they wanted to deploy in a larger
way was because they had people in faraway places
that had gone to meetings and might not have used the
technology. From a security standpoint, that’s driving them to facilitate the use of the platform, so for
Business Travel News: What are the biggest industry
changes that you have seen?
David Collins: It’s been an interesting 22-year ride. One
of the biggest things to me has been the consolidation
that has taken place. We have far fewer shareholders here at ARC than when I came here, from Pan
American and T WA, which no longer exist, to the
most recent Delta-Northwest merger, the potential
United-Continental merger and things that have
pushed consolidation on the agency side as well. The
economic forces have been at work on both sides. The
travel agency side has been impacted by the commission changes from the second half of the 1990s onward
as people looked to change their business models. In
the end, it has probably been good for everybody, as
you end up being more efficient and in a better position to face the challenges in the marketplace.
From an ARC perspective, one of the great things is
that the system has been able to support the changes
in the industry. I’ve always felt that we provide a very
BTN: You’ve not only seen companies go away, you also
have seen others join in.
Collins: One significant change is that the low-cost
carriers for a while did not see ARC as a way to do
business. In the last 12 months, that’s been one of the
key changes from my perspective. For example, we saw
JetBlue come into ARC as a participant and WestJet
come in toward the end of last year. Air Tran moved to