Top Business Travel Trends 2008
Written by Michael Roney
Sir Winston Churchill once opined, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
That perspective could be especially valuable this year, as rising fuel costs and other economic factors are creating both challenges and opportunities for frequent business travelers.
For many airlines, the trend in 2008 has been route cuts, capacity reductions, mergers and à la carte pricing for everything from baggage to meals and aisle seating - all to merely survive. Among hotels, a decline in occupancy rates in the U.S. has been offset by strong demand internationally, while major brands continue to upgrade amenities and further expand their service offerings.
The paradox in this challenging climate is this: The major travel providers catering to business are steadily expanding the quality and breadth of their services, specifically for frequent travelers who are willing to stay loyal to a particular company or alliance.
So opportunities abound. You've simply got to see them.
Enhanced Convenience Through Technology
Technology is used everywhere along the business travel continuum, making it the most significant trend of all, as airlines, hotels and car rental companies roll out increasingly sophisticated systems to enhance service and recognition for customers.
The world's major airlines have, over the past several years, installed hundreds of self-serve airport kiosks that allow you to view, edit and print itineraries and boarding passes. More recently, an iPhone™ application from British Airways (BA) made it possible to monitor arrivals and departures in real time, while American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, Lufthansa and Air Canada have launched mobile systems for booking reservations, getting flight status and checking in while you're in transit via your phone or PDA, increasing travel efficiency even more.
Leading airlines are offering online corporate travel services that provide small- to medium-size businesses some of the same capabilities and deals that are available to corporate travel offices with airline contracts, including centralized billing and tracking and enhanced mileage-earning opportunities.
"Finnair's Corporate Programme has been evolving since its inception a year ago, and is now fully ready," says Christina Colliander, director of sales for Finnair North America. "It's available to anyone who wants to join, with no prequalification, and includes business class fares and upperend economy fares." Based on traffic over a six-month period, discount levels start at $5,000 and move up to $10,000, and currently the airline is running a special offer: 20% off business and economy class travel through the end of October 2008.
If you’re uncertain about a specific product, it might be time for a chat with your financial advisor or an appropriately skeptical gambol through an Internet search engine’s results page produced by simply entering the trading symbol.
Peter Schinasi, Director of Relationship Marketing, British Airways
Hotels and car rental companies are also leveraging technology on a major scale. Most major chains such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott and InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) now offer online check-in, some up to 24 hours in advance of your stay, and have been installing lobby kiosks where you can print boarding passes for upcoming flights. Hertz, Avis, Budget and other major car rental brands are even offering electronic toll-payment systems that allow you to bypass cash toll lanes throughout the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere in the U.S.
Maximizing Loyalty Programs
Sticking with one airline, hotel group or car rental agency certainly is a major trend among frequent travelers, who are increasingly leveraging elite membership status, alliances and partnerships among travel providers. Finnair and BA, for example, are both members of the oneworld alliance, which includes ten of the world's leading airlines and offers service to more than 675 destinations in almost 130 countries.
The benefits are many, including use of exclusive airport lounges and the opportunity to earn miles that can be cashed in for free flights, hotel stays and other benefits. Ongoing exclusive promotions add to the opportunities. For example, this fall's BA's Executive Club offer awards double miles and a complimentary companion ticket for a full-fare purchase on any qualifying flight.
Partnership agreements also are making it easier to earn credits and rewards, such as when you earn miles through BA's Executive Club by staying at Hilton, Marriott and Starwood hotels; renting through Avis; or making a purchase through the BA Miles eStore. Shopping through the BA Miles eStore provides Executive Club members with up to six BA Miles for every $1 spent online with major retailers such as Target, Circuit City and Nordstrom.
In addition to offering mileage and award benefits for customers, travel providers such as BA are focusing on offering a personalized travel experience for their most loyal customers. "The more our customers tell us about themselves, the more equipped we are to respond in a personalized way," states Peter Schinasi, BA's director of relationship marketing. "Our vision is to offer a tailored travel experience to our most loyal customers. This involves offering special promotions or services based on customer preferences, as well as personally recognizing customers upon arrival at the airport and providing personalized service in flight."
Business Class Airlines and Private Jets
Major carriers such as American, BA, Lufthansa and others are offering single-cabin business class service to major destinations, generally at fares competitive with multiple-class flights.
Traveling between the heart of the City of London and New York will be quicker and easier beginning next fall when BA launches twice-daily business class only flights between centrally located London City airport and New York. Customers will be able to arrive at the airport up to 15 minutes before departure and avoid the commute across London to Heathrow or Gatwick Airports, as well as bypass the usual arrival checks. BA has also launched OpenSkies, a two-class, all-premium airline with nonstop service from New York (JFK) to Paris (Orly) and Amsterdam. It offers full business class, with a completely 180-degree lieflat bed, as well as PREM+, a new cabin of service offering business class amenities at a special price.
Smaller regional jets are enhancing schedules and expanding route networks for many airlines, while high-end business jet travel under major carrier labels is emerging as a means of avoiding airport delays and hassles altogether. For example, Lufthansa's Private Jet service offers bookings at short notice to more than 1,000 destinations in Europe and the Russian Federation.
Connectivity in the Air
Constant connectivity for PCs, PDAs and cell phones is another major trend to watch, with service starting to emerge on several airlines. Qantas partnered with AeroMobile to offer such a system on select aircraft between April 2007 and January 2008, and deemed the test a great success. JetBlue is experimenting with onboard Wi-Fi service on select Airbus A320 aircraft dubbed "BetaBlue," with search-and-discover options from Amazon.com, as well as an e-mail and messaging platform open to both Microsoft Exchange corporate e-mail accounts and leading Web-mail providers such as Gmail, AOL Mail, Hotmail and Windows Live Mail.
Constant connectivity for PCs, PDAs and cell
phones is another major trend to watch,
with service starting to emerge on several airlines.
American Airlines has been working throughout 2008 with AirCell LLC to provide passengers with high-speed broadband connectivity, including high-speed Internet connection, VPN access and e-mail capabilities, on Boeing 767-200 aircraft that primarily fly transcontinental routes. American says that if the connectivity solution is successful, it could be extended to the rest of American's domestic fleet.
Destination Log: Visiting St. Petersburg With Elegance and Ease
Russia's St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North. Historically and architecturally, it is quite literally the country's crown jewel, with monuments to an imperial age that will simply take your breath away. A planned city founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 on the Gulf of Finland, it not only served as the capital of Russia until the country's revolution in 1917, but became one of Europe's foremost cultural centers. It's still that way today. From its placid canals and the lush landscape of the Summer Garden to its iconic and imposing Winter Palace, the sights and experiences of this world-class destination will stay with you forever.
Savvy business and pleasure travelers departing the U.S. are discovering that, for several reasons, the fastest and most comfortable way to reach this iconic destination is to fly from New York's JFK via Finnair through its hub at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
First, there's the comfort of the airline's first leg across the Atlantic. "For the last couple of years, Finnair has had lie-flat beds on all business class long-haul flights," Christina Colliander, director of sales for Finnair North America, notes. "We have always had a very good business class seat, but giving passengers the opportunity to lie down during long-haul flights really makes a difference. As a result, business class out of JFK is booked, and we are very satisfied with the success of our New York service."
There's also the fact that Helsinki's unique geographic location makes it not only the fastest route to Russia from the Eastern U.S., but also to the Baltics, Eastern Europe and even on to India and parts of Asia.
Finnair Plus Platinum, Gold and Silver members and business class passengers on their way to St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities routinely take advantage of lounge facilities at Helsinki, where they can rest and work in peace and quiet with a full selection of newspapers and magazines, beverages and snacks, as well as power outlets for electrical devices and communication connections. Those flying on to other destinations can rest assured that Finnair provides special departure lounge services at more than 50 international airports served by Finnair scheduled services around the world.
Now in its 85th year, Finnair currently has daily flights from JFK, and starting October 26, Finnair will operate six weekly flights between New York and Helsinki. This is a direct result of its standing as one of today's few profitable airlines, with a 6% increase in sales of seats over last year. While other carriers seem to be shrinking, Finnair is expanding.
"We are delighted with these positive results across the Atlantic," Colliander states. "It shows that our U.S.-based passengers - and especially our corporate travelers - appreciate Finnair's excellent global-route network, as well as our continued efforts to provide the best service on board."
Many frequent business travelers want to reduce their carbon footprint by flying with environmentally conscious airlines, so major carriers such as BA, Finnair, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Air France, American, JetBlue and Southwest are aggressively investing in new aircraft and sustainable technology, focusing primarily on fuel conservation, recycling and other green policies. BA was the first airline to introduce a voluntary passenger carbon-offset program, allowing customers to pay to offset the effects of their air travel. The money raised helps fund projects around the world designed to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, travel managers are giving preference to those airlines and travel companies with a strong sustainability focus.
With daily service from New York through its Helsinki hub, Finnair offers the world's most direct, fast connections between Europe and Asia, while its Web site, www.finnair. com/us, now allows you to calculate fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in addition to comparing travel times on routes between Europe and Asia either via Helsinki or through other European cities. By flying this Great Circle Route between Europe and Asia, and factoring in its modern fleet, Finnair passengers flying from New York to Delhi, for example, save almost 25% in carbon dioxide emissions by flying via Helsinki rather than through Amsterdam.
BA and several other leading U.K.-based airlines are members of the Sustainable Aviation group, which is committed to cutting the carbon emissions of new aircraft 50% by 2020. BA also plans to recycle half of its waste, sending none to landfill by 2010. The airline already is recycling close to 40% of its waste from JFK Airport and is campaigning for inclusion of aviation in an international agreement based on carbon trading, which will help tackle carbon emissions from aircraft the world over.
Car rental agencies are getting into the act as well, with Hertz offering a "Green Collection" of thousands of Toyota Prius hybrids and other models, while Avis has added 500 Nissan Altima Hybrid vehicles to its U.S. fleet, available at select locations.
Making the Most of Opportunity
Obviously, understanding the latest business travel trends is about more than just simple curiosity. It's about recognizing opportunity amid the challenges, then focusing your business on the travel providers and their partners, who, like you, keep their focus on the creative solutions that will lead to superior convenience, choice, comfort and efficiency. Now that's the kind of partnership that will pay off in 2009.
Destination Log: Easy and Sumptuous Traveling to London
Ah, London! It's a city of superlatives. From Buckingham Palace to the quaint shops and pubs of Chelsea, this collection of villages is one of the largest, most historic and desirable destinations in the world. It's Europe's transportation hub, with five international airports offering direct flights to 530 destinations worldwide, as well as high-speed rail services to Paris and Brussels.
London is not only a tourist mecca, but also a world financial center rivaling New York and a magnet for foreign investment with more than 20,000 overseas-owned companies. Its thriving economy is expected to grow at a faster rate than that of New York, Paris or any other established global city, which would make it the fourth-largest city economy in the world by 2020, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Additionally, London will host the Olympic Games in 2012, with a total budget running into the billions of dollars.
So it's no wonder that London is a top business destination, or that Heathrow Airport is the busiest hub in Europe. Yet despite the high volume of traffic, business class service such as BA's new Club World - including its Galleries Lounges in Heathrow's sparkling new Terminal 5 - are making frequentflyer trips ever more comfortable and productive.
Imagine drinks and fine wines under the glow of a Swarovski crystal chandelier, work and entertainment zones, and direct access to a new Elemis Travel Spa that has been created to form a relaxing atmosphere using controlled lighting and natural materials. In all, these new Club World lounges offer a 100% increase in the number of showers and bathrooms, a 60% increase in washrooms and 25% more customer service desks, all to make traveling a bit easier.
On the other end, in New York, BA is spending $30 million to create a new premium check-in pavilion with a dedicated curbside drop-off area and enhanced check-in areas for Club World and Executive Club Silver customers, while renovating its associated lounges to reflect the sumptuous new Galleries style enjoyed at Heathrow's Terminal 5.
Indeed, Club World covers all aspects of the journey, both on the ground and in the air, where more than £200 million was spent to create a "lounge in the sky" to enable business passengers to sleep, work or relax at 35,000 feet. Its Club Kitchen offers wraps, sandwiches, beverages, healthy hot and cold snacks and more throughout the flight, while its innovative Sleeper Service between London Heathrow and selected cities in eastern North America and the Middle East gives travelers the maximum time to rest during the flight. This includes full meals available in the lounges on both ends of the trip, so that once you're on the plane you can go straight to sleep in one of its ergonomically enhanced lie-flat beds.
"What we've created in our business class is really an end-to-end experience for travelers to customize their journeys, whether that's through the ability to work or sleep in flight, enjoy a meal at their leisure or just relax," notes Peter Schinasi, BA's director of relationship marketing.