According to a recent discussion by industry insiders, today’s business traveller is looking for fast, reliable and free WiFi while they book travel online, undaunted by fluctuations in fuel prices and the overall economy.
These trends and more were the subject of Best Western’s Business Travel Outlook 2015, a recent panel discussion of the business travel segment which brought together four travel representatives, including Best Western’s Dorothy Dowling, SVP, sales and marketing; Ian Race, SVP, sales and account management, Vision Travel; Chris Vukelich, VP – supplier relations for Egencia (a division of Expedia specializing in corporate travel); and Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada.
According to Race, while leisure travel has seen a “tightening of the belt” by vacationers, business travel has been unaffected by changes in the Canadian dollar's value. Similarly, he added that little has changed in light of dropping fuel costs in North America, with any savings for airlines yet to be passed along to consumers.
As with every aspect of life, technology continues to play a big role in business travel. The panel agreed that fast and free WiFi is the top demand from business travellers today, who are more likely to book travel and hotel reservations online. According to Vukelich, more than 80 per cent of business travel is booked online, adding that 40 per cent of total transactions require some degree of online booking. Beyond booking, he described virtual payment as the next step for the industry, envisioning an environment in which travellers can pay through single-use credit card numbers, thereby reducing fraud and simplifying bookkeeping for companies.
According to Dowling, with the prospect of wearable technology – from smartwatches to high-tech headsets – becoming a part of everyday life, she said that the hotel industry needs to “get their heads around” the potential privacy issues that may arise as such devices become a part of the hotel experience.
And while the average age of travellers may be skewing younger as millenials begin to overtake the market (outnumbering the Baby Boomers by one-fifth), Dowling said that similar demands were seen across all age demographics.
“Travellers may be getting younger, but they all want the same things," she said.
A survey regarding business travel conducted through Facebook prior to the panel discussion yielded the following results:
- 47 per cent of business travellers bring a spouse or partner along on trips, while one per cent brought along a pet. Sixty-seven per cent tell their employer that they will be bringing along a companion on a business trip.
- Fifty-eight per cent of business travellers engage in ‘bleisure’ travel, combining business with leisure, by tacking on up to three additional days for leisure activities. Of those activities, 71 per cent of Canadian respondents said that ‘exploring new locations’ was their top activity, followed by visiting local attractions (68 per cent), shopping (58 per cent), nightlife (44 per cent) and adventure sports (43 per cent).
- Despite dropping gas prices in North America, travellers were ‘not likely’ to change spending habits as a result.
- Eighty-five per cent of business travellers carry two or more electronic devices.
- Eighty per cent of business travellers book their hotel reservation online, with 54 per cent of those bookings done via computer, compared to 15 per cent made through smartphones. Telephone reservations still account for 18 per cent of hotel bookings.
- Fifty per cent of business travellers will ‘absolutely not’ pay extra for super-fast WiFi connections, while 30 per cent are ‘not likely’ to pay and another seven per cent are ‘very likely’ to pay for the service.
- Topping the hotel ‘wish list’ for business travellers was free in-room WiFi (82 per cent) followed by breakfast (77 per cent). Other desired features include fitness centers (39 per cent) and lobby bars (33 per cent).
- Fifty-nine per cent of respondents reported not using their in-room phone very often, while 35 per cent said they never used it. Of the five per cent who said they use it regularly, the most reported uses (in descending order) were for calling the front desk, ordering room service, calling other guest rooms and making long-distance calls.