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Don’t suppress meetings! GBTA’s Scott Solombrino on climate change

A reduction in global travel will lead to economic calamity, according to Scott Solombrino, chief operating officer and executive director of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

Speaking to M&IT at the second edition of the GBTA ITM Strategic Meetings Management Symposium in London, Solombrino said that the association was dedicated to finding a solution to climate change – and that flight-shaming is not the answer.

“We know climate change is a problem,” he said. “We want a solution – and we’re fixing it. It’s a worldwide problem we all have to deal with. As long as we’re all heading in the same direction the world will fix it and move on to something else. We’re dedicated to finding a solution.

“You don’t want to suppress meetings – you need meetings to grow and help the economy grow. Meetings bring the world together – there’s no replacing face to face. We’re not concerned that tech is going to replace meetings business. The traditional meeting is going nowhere – people don’t want to give that up to tech.”

He added that the aviation industry is working to make flying cleaner through new technology, such as biofuels – and that he wanted travel to be the cleanest of all industries.

Scott Solombrino.

Scott Solombrino.

“Aviation is not the biggest problem,” he said. “Aviation is working hand in hand with science to make flying 80 per cent less carbon output. People have to think carefully about this. One in seven jobs come from travel, tourism and hospitality. Anything that suppresses travel will affect economies. If you start to make it less available there will be economic calamity.

“We want travel to be the cleanest of all the industries. If people start to not go anywhere the world becomes more fragmented. We don’t think flight-shaming is the answer. It’s political, it’s not scientific. We’re here to defend global aviation and make sure it becomes the cleanest industry, through technology and biofuels – and that will be a great day.

A better solution

“We want people to travel more. Think what life would be like in places like Malta, or Cyprus, or the Greek islands, if people stopped travelling. There’d be a collapse. There has to be a better solution. We’re working with all the airlines, we’re making great progress.”

He also said that the coronavirus outbreak is having an effect on travel – and that the industry is learning from it.

“It’s been an eye opening experience for meetings. You need to always have a plan. This was on no one’s radar. We’re all learning from the experience. This is bad for business – it’s having an immediate effect. It’s scary.”

The GBTA and The Institute of Travel Management (ITM), the leading managed business travel association in the UK and Ireland, launched the GBTA ITM Strategic Meetings Management Symposium in London last year as part of a deeper, collaborative partnership between both associations.

“More and more companies are centralising and that creates opportunities in companies,” said Solombrino. “They need education and we’re trying to give them that education. I think there’s more opportunity to do that globally.

“I think tech is playing a huge role. There are so many platforms and each one brings something unique and interesting. They help make meetings more interesting and easier to navigate. These advances are only advancing the expansion of the meetings business.”