GUEST EDITOR: Festive Road Managing Partner Caroline Strachan

Caroline Strachan is co-founder and managing partner of business travel and meetings consultancy Festive Road. Caroline's career includes leadership roles at Cisco, Yahoo and AstraZeneca, and she more recently led the global consulting organization at American Express Global Business Travel. Caroline was recognized as one of Business Travel News' 25 Most Influential of 2021 and 2018 and was awarded the IBM iX everywoman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018. Caroline is an advocate for better workplaces, a GBTA Foundation board member and TEDx speaker. She lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells in the U.K. with her husband and twin daughters. 


"Workoliday": The Link Between Corporate Real Estate and Meetings
(The Times, Aug. 25)

Strachan: Where's the right place to build team congeniality? In a meeting room or in the hotel pool? You won't catch me "sworking"—swimming whilst working; credit to Paul Tilstone and his love of portmanteaus—but I can get behind what this article advocates for: finding new environments to meet. If work is not a place (and it really isn't), then surely there's some big thinking to be done to discover new ways and places to meet. It's time for travel, meetings and real estate teams to work together to solve this conundrum. Heaps of unused real estate could be, and is being, repurposed into collaboration spaces (hat tip to Dropbox and Salesforce). Now add on matching the right environment to the meeting purpose and objectives and a new effectiveness equation emerges, which in turn is your business case for investing in travel, meetings and different forms of real estate. To test the theory, at Festive Road we intentionally select unconventional venues for our strategic planning to great effect: walking in a forest for leadership team structure, cabin next to the sea for career development planning, etc. Imagine the breadth of services our travel and events teams and suppliers could offer, creating new market opportunity vs. scrambling for a piece of the existing pie.

Modern Gender Equality Must Include Men
(Time, July 18)

Strachan: Have you been to see the Barbie movie? If you do nothing else on your DEI agenda for the remainder of 2023, please watch the movie as a leadership team and, most importantly, create a psychologically safe space to debate it right after. Why? Greta Gerwig's gender equality positioning is genius. Barbie lives in Barbieland and can be whatever she wants, from "Stereotypical" Barbie to the President, a lawyer, an astronaut, etc. But what about the men? The male lead is Ken (actually known as "just Ken"), always playing second fiddle to Barbie, Gerwig's social statement designed to get you talking. 

Gender equality is not about men giving up their place in the world (or indeed Barbies giving up their places to the Kens). It's about providing equal opportunity. So, as we navigate this topic as women, we must bring men on the journey with us. Let's not make this a them versus us thing. Instead let's move forward together. 

What is T&E?
(Divvy blog)

Strachan: Does travel management have an image problem? I don't mean the act of traveling on business (that's a whole other debate), I mean the art of managing the spend and activity, the role we call travel management. 

My need to answer this question deepened recently as I attended the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Programme at the University of Oxford. Faced with explaining travel management to 70 other business owners, professors and business mentors, my near three decades of travel management experience clearly let me down 16 weeks in. The cutting words: "Caroline, I still don't understand what it is you do?" It stung. But the sting followed quickly with a light-bulb moment. I asked myself, what is known and true to all of these business owners? They know business travel as a line item on a budget: "T&E", and therefore someone, somewhere in their business manages that spend and service. Is that the difference? Do we need to speak in our stakeholders' language and become T&E management? I know we certainly need to help them move beyond a line item on the P&L and understand the "why" behind the budget, which in turn increases the value placed on the programs managed. I picked this blog as a Travel Management, or T&E 101.


Purposeful Travel

Strachan: I'm fed up with talk of a return to 2019 volumes. Why as an industry are we aspiring to reach an out-of-context number? In decades to come I'm sure our successors will look back and be amazed at how broad business changed in those five years from 2019 to 2024, and yet as a sector we somehow measure our success against a number from the past.  

I believe this measurement of success is a side effect of the short-term approach to managing companies: quarterly market results, monthly financials, weekly pipeline, etc. The outcome? Travel suppliers pretty much measure business success by growth alone, which is at odds with rocketing sustainability pressures. I'd argue now is the time to move to longer-term thinking, more sustainable objectives such as value created for customers or positive impact made alongside shareholder return. Our industry must be careful not to become the representative of bad, when we create so much good in the world: life-saving medical congresses, UN summits, board meetings, graduate rotation programs, the list is endless. That's why I'm so passionate about Purposeful Travel. The act of right-sizing the volume of travel and meetings to meet business and employee need, whilst limiting impact on the planet. Without this, investment in our industry and the services we all offer are at threat, and we'll be doomed to lamenting that 2019 figure forever.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

Strachan: The Notorious RBG, as she became known, was a former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a supreme badass (affectionate term). How far gender equality has come since Ruth graduated in 1959, and it's that 40 years that followed her graduation that I'd love to hear more about. Ruth inspired my TEDx. It was her ability to change gendered law by focusing on men that really helped me flip my thinking. (Watch the documentary, it's excellent.) She never appeared angry, instead she channeled her energy into "workaround thinking" to always find a smarter way. If I had the chance to interview Ruth, I'd ask:

  • You became well-known for your ability to deliver bulletproof dissenting opinions, is that a skill you built over time, or was it always part of your personality?
  • You have this innate ability to manage your emotions and rise above the noise, how do you do this?
  • You often shared that your workout routine was critical in your ability to remain in work in your seventies and eighties. What other advice do you have for those looking to continue in the workplace beyond the traditional retirement age?


"Diary of a CEO"
By Steven Bartlett

Strachan: This podcast is such a rare find. Steven is a 31-year-old entrepreneur who speaks so authentically about his journey and redefining success. I also really enjoy his completely different take on leadership. He is a dragon on the TV program "Dragons' Den" in the U.K. (the equivalent of Shark Tank in the U.S.) and he brings a very contemporary approach, which feels like a breath of fresh air. What I particularly like is what he's achieved with his podcast. He helps his guests open up by creating vulnerability in the discussion. For example, it was on this podcast that Simon Sinek shared he's lonely. Yes, the guy whose TED talk has been viewed more than 62 million times is lonely and can now talk about it via a new type of relationship with Steven. What a brilliant example for us all, and a wonderful illustration of how talking improves mental health.