A Higher Level of Comfort
Top-notch comfort and service is expected among business travelers these days.“With the rise in business travel over the past three or four years, we’ve seen a lot of capital dollars put into hotels, all up and down the spectrum, from luxury to limited service properties and extended-stay hotels as well,” says Radomski.
“You’re seeing granite countertops, Egyptian cotton sheets and bath amenities in hotels that were traditionally considered ‘budget.’ You see much richer-looking décor packages; you see the traditional mid-scale hotels taking on an appearance that has previously been defined by the upscale segment. So the bar is being raised throughout the industry. That has created a certain expectation for guests, so while there still is a limitedservice category in the lower-priced properties, guests are not going to sacrifice too much in terms of design and quality when you go to those hotels.”
Extended stay is now the fastest-growing hotel segment in the U.S.,
with an increase in properties of more than 17% in the past five years.
This enhanced comfort extends to inroom entertainment options. For example, Hilton Hotels has launched home theater-like Sight+Sound Rooms™ at two of its hotels, including 25 guest rooms at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare International Airport and 30 guest rooms at the Hilton San Francisco. Featuring a wide-screen, high-definition television, a digital surround-sound system and an easy-to-use connectivity panel for music, videos, games and laptops, this premium room option lets guests connect, watch and experience their favorite forms of entertainment.
“Going forward, high-speed Internet and wireless is now expected, and we’re going to see a trend toward flatscreen TVs,” predicts Radomski. “But more than that, people increasingly bring their entertainment with them. Consumers want the freedom to bring any and all content in and play it back in the rooms.”
And the airlines are certainly doing their part in addressing higher expectations in comfort. BA is overhauling its Club World business class product, including all aspects of the journey, both on the ground and in the air. Its new in-flight 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 a 180-degree fully flat bed.
Those same lounges also feature quiet rooms with reclining chairs, bathrooms with showers, as well as full office workstations and services.“What we’ve created in our business class is really an end-to-end experience for the traveler to customize, whether that’s the ability to work or sleep in-flight or just relax,” notes BA’s Director of Relationship Marketing Peter Schinasi.
Lufthansa has also been updating its lounges and terminals around the globe. “Business lounges with showers just don’t cut it anymore for premium flyers internationally,” states Don Bunkenburg, director of corporate sales and regions for the airline. “First-class travelers are making use of separate air terminals reserved exclusively for their use by the airlines.” In August 2007, Lufthansa opened the Munich version of its popular First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, bustling with personal assistants over two floors, integrated passport and security controls, more than 40 vintage Armagnac brandies, a cigar lounge and more.
And there has been a major increase in private jet travel as a means of avoiding airport delays and hassles altogether. For example, Lufthansa’s Private Jet service from Europe has grown 400% since its launch in 2005. Lufthansa and SWISS offer a fleet of private jets, which can be booked individually at short notice to more than 1,000 destinations in Europe and the Russian Federation. This service offers first-class travel on regularly scheduled long-haul flights from all Lufthansa gateways throughout North America to Frankfurt, Munich or Zurich, and then whisks you by limousine from that plane to your private jet, which takes you the rest of the way.
Downtime In Berlin
Germany’s largest city is known for its worldly sophistication, tumultuous history, lively nightlife and numerous sites of cultural and historic interest.
The main international airport, Tegel, is about five miles northwest of the city. Taxis cost about €18; the bus is €3 for the 20- to 30-minute ride. The smaller Schönefeld airport is located 15 miles southeast of the city center, providing European and charter flight service. Travel time is about 45 to 60 minutes to the center of Berlin, with the taxi fare running €25 to €28. From Schönefeld you can also take the S-Bahn train for about €2.
Berlin’s cuisine used to be somewhat provincial, with boulette (fried meatballs) its best-known traditional dish. You can still sample local specialties at places such as Die Berliner Republik (www.die-berliner-republik.de) at Schiffbauerdamm 8 in the central Mitte district (call 30-30 87 22 93); or if high cuisine is more to your liking, try the duck served with black pepper sauce and vegetable rolls at Restaurant Maxwell, also in the Mitte district at Bergstrasse 22 (call 30-2807-121).
You shouldn’t miss the open-air East Side Gallery, Mühlenstrasse, Berlin-Friedrichshain, along the longest and best-preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, featuring over 100 paintings by artists from all over the world.
Using Extended-Stay Properties
Extended stay is now the fastestgrowing hotel segment in the U.S., with an increase in properties of more than 17% in the past five years, according to Smith Travel Research. “Companies have gone through a lot of downsizing, letting go of in-house talent that they recognized as valuable, yet they nevertheless thought they could get a better quality of talent by using specialists,” notes Radomski. “What this did is put a lot of specialized people out of corporate staff jobs and into a situation where they became independent contractors. That, coupled with the continued surge in IT and telecom, has added to the demand for extended stay. These people travel to provide their services to companies, requiring them to stay for weeks, months and sometimes years during the course of a project.”
To address this trend, IHG offers Staybridge and Candlewood suites, while Hilton’s brand is Homewood Suites. Beyond their spacious suites and home-like amenities, these types of hotels generally offer an on-site convenience store, exercise facilities and guest laundries. Guests can also enjoy complimentary hot breakfasts and guest receptions receptions in the early evening.
Notes Radomski,“At Staybridge we have a great room with a fireplace, and we’ve created something called a ‘gathering table’ — a bar-like table with stools around it, which becomes a central point for getting together. This is something that guests are receptive to, because the types of travelers who stay at extendedstay properties — independent contractors and long-term stayers — are so used to meeting new people, they’ll strike up conversations easily, so these kinds of features in our hotels just lead to an overall better experience for the guests.
“We constantly and consistently strive to create new methods, programs and tools that ultimately provide our guests with the most enjoyable experience possible,” notes Rebecca Wyatt, Homewood Suites senior vice president. “Given that the majority of our guests stay an average of 14 nights and have very different needs than most travelers, new services such as Suite Selection are allowing our guests to take more ownership of their travel decisions.”
The Benefits of Loyalty Sticking with one hotel group, airline or car rental agency continues to be a major trend among frequent travelers, with IHG’s Priority Club leading the industry with more than 300% growth since 2000. It’s no wonder, since loyalty programs help road warriors earn special perks such as upgraded rooms or special airline lounges and services, all while building personal profiles that lead to more personalized and efficient travel experiences.
“The more the customer tells us about himself or herself, the more equipped we are to respond in a personalized way. It’s those capabilities that we are really focused on behind the scenes,” states BA’s Schinasi.“If we know you’re a frequent traveler to Heathrow, for example, we can tell you about new products and services we’re installing there, special offers on certain flights, as well as enable you to get the type of meal you want on a flight.”
Loyalty programs are becoming more flexible in the way they allow members to earn and redeem credits. Hilton’s HHonors provides three ways in which members accumulate both hotel points and airline miles each time they stay at a participating hotel, a benefit the company calls Double Dipping®. The program also includes “reverse conversion,” exchanging miles for points, while IHG also allows you to earn airline miles instead of hotel points — all valuable perks in the current environment of full planes and highly competitive seat awards. Meanwhile, IHG’s Priority Club Rewards features a groundbreaking “Any Hotel,Anywhere” reward that allows members to use points to stay at other hotels, including boutiques and competitors.
Travelers are leveraging alliances and partnerships among travel providers, making a huge difference in convenience and convertibility of earned award points. For example, they can earn miles on BA by staying at Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton hotels; renting through Avis, Alamo and National; and ordering wines through the BA Wine Club. Lufthansa’s Miles & More program, shared with its partner airlines, maintains exchange arrangements with Hertz, Hilton, IHG, Starwood and numerous other travel service providers, while Hertz also allows frequent customers to convert points to miles in the frequent flyer programs of 11 other major airlines and Amtrak, as well as with Marriott Rewards and IHG’s Priority Club Rewards.
Business travelers are also making use of major credit cards tied to loyalty programs, most of which not only earn points or miles per dollar spent, but can open the door to bonus earning opportunities.