What's in Store for Business Travelers in 2014
The corporate travel industry represents the business traveler--an individual who is on-the-go, connected and savvy. The industry is always looking for ways to keep the attention and pique the interest of these customers who are constantly in motion.
Here's a short list of trends that are here to stay for road warriors.
1. Staying connected. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration updated its rules on electronic device usage during flights, allowing travelers to stay connected even during takeoff and landing. When it comes to business travelers, airlines remember the 80/20 rule: While they make up only 20 percent of the travelers, business people represent 80 percent of the major airlines' profits. This means that airlines, and now even the FAA, are laser-focused on business travelers. From ancillary benefits like in-flight WiFi to extra leg room, airlines understand that it’s important for business travelers to be comfortable and connected. Delta’s recent profit numbers show that this approach is working well.
2. Jumping the line. Airports are making travel easier for the business traveler. From check-in to destination, TSA PreCheck is alleviating traveler stress. I use TSA PreCheck (because I have the coveted Global Entry status so I qualify automatically) every time I travel and for me it’s been a complete game changer. Recently I was in Chicago for work. On my return trip, I was the only person in the PreCheck line. I breezed through the line, with my shoes on, and had a minor celebrity moment as I received fascinated gazes from people wondering "Who is that guy?" Imagine how convenient this could be for a business traveler who’s on the road multiple times a month. To go from the entrance of the airport to the gate of your aircraft in 10 minutes will increase efficiency for the business traveler, allowing them to spend more time in the office instead of on the road. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how TSA limits this service so that it continues to be exclusive and time-saving for those travelers who have completed and passed the necessary background check.
3. Mobile apps. More airlines and hotels are including mobile applications as part of their standard service offerings. I recently went paperless for the first time when traveling. I was flying on United Airlines. Before my flight, United emailed me, prompted me to check-in on my smartphone and when I got to the airport I simply showed the gate agent my phone and that was it. It was such a pleasure and real convenience for me. For the business traveler, especially a true road warrior, printers might not always be accessible. So, the paperless option and updated flight information that’s available on airlines' mobile applications is really wonderful.
For hotels, it's a different story. Despite the hopes of hotel marketing departments, many travelers aren't downloading hotel mobile applications, which seem more like a marketing tactic for hotels as opposed to a useful tool for travelers. The issue here might be what I call "app overload." For a mobile application to be valuable, it needs to provide a valuable service. My friend Drew Patterson has developed a mobile application called CheckMate, that allows travelers to check-in to their hotels from their mobile devices. I think the app is wonderful and will give lower functioning hotel mobile apps a run for their money.
4. The sharing economy. More leisure travelers are opting in to sharing economies when they travel, but for business travelers, hotels and rental cars are still the best bet. I think the sharing economy trend is really interesting. As it stands now though, I see it more as a trend for leisure travelers. The issue is liability. For an individual traveling on his or her own time, they can afford to take a risk. If people want to take a risk by getting into a privately-driven car through a ridesharing service such as Lyft, that’s their decision. But for business travelers, who are representing their company’s interests, the increased liability from a night at an Airbnb raises significant issues.
5. Profit focus. Airlines are promoting ancillary fees and "right sizing" aircraft, resulting in fuller planes and higher profits. After many years of boom and bust, the American airline industry has a group of savvy executives who understand the need to enforce capacity discipline and who have figured out how to merchandise their product. While these tactics have helped the airlines (with help from falling oil prices) to finally make money, for the business traveler, the use of "ancillary packaging" seems like nickel and diming.
PAUL METSELAAR | Columnist | CEO and chairman
Paul Metselaar founded what is now Ovation Travel Group in 1984, filling a void in the corporate travel market by providing specialized service to law firms. Today, Ovation is one of the largest corporate travel management companies in the U.S., serving more than 700 companies in a variety of industries, including law, financial services, and entertainment.