English Corner

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How business travel is changing

Von Ben West

Technology, improvements in the travel experience and increasing expectations of newer generations have transformed business travel.

On a recent short-haul business class flight from Amsterdam to London it struck me how little the experience can have changed in years.

Despite the cost being £500 (689 CHF), the only discernible difference between it and economy (£120 or 166 CHF) seemed to be speedier boarding (simply meaning more time waiting in your seat for the ‘plane to take off), an empty seat between passengers, a free newspaper, and an ok mini-breakfast served with china and cutlery instead of plastic. All served in a very rushed fashion as the flight took only 45 minutes. I’m glad I hadn’t paid for it myself.

However, this lack of change is very much the exception for the business traveller. For a start, long-haul business class has come on leaps and bounds since the early days. But many other facets of the business travel experience have been transformed over the years.

Today, more than a million business trips are taken daily. In the 1950s, few companies could afford to fly their employees to business meetings — considering that even a short-haul economy flight typically cost the equivalent of a secretary’s monthly salary.

There’s an array of downloads for everything

Travel time between destinations — whether in the air, on the road, at the hotel — is no longer seen as lost business hours. Timesavers such as map, airline, airport, hotel and other travel apps, e-boarding passes and online travel directories speed up the process of travel. No more need for the office PA or a friend in the locality to search out hotel or car rental recommendations.

An increasing number of hotel brands, including Starwood and Hilton, have mobile check-in and room keys, meaning you can bypass the front desk and get straight to work — especially as many hotels now offer such facilities as charging stations, tablets and fully equipped business facilities on their premises.

Many hotels now offer concierge services via hotel apps, and there’s an array of downloads for everything from last-minute event tickets (Razorgator), restaurant reservations (Resy) and local themed walking tours (Kamino).

More and more business travellers are using itinerary management applications like TripIt which collate all of a traveller’s digital material (such as email confirmations, frequent flyer data, seating preferences) together in one place, updating changes via email, and providing a view of all required information from seat number to a map to the hotel.

Other techological advancements, such as increasingly widespread wifi and up-to-the-minute updates on anything from weather to queuing and journey times ensure an ultra-efficient business trip is possible.

83% of respondents use time on business trips to explore the city

In the old days business travel was very much distinct from leisure travel. Today, with the modern business-person’s increasing ability to work flexibly — whether through technological advance or new attitudes to working practices — business travellers are much more likely to throw some leisure time into their business trip.

The Bleisure Report, surveying 640 international guests, and commissioned by serviced apartment providers Bridge Street Global Hospitality, found that 83% of respondents use time on business trips to explore the city they are visiting. Furthermore, 46% add personal travel days to either every or most business trips while 54% bring a family member or ‘significant other’.

A 2014 survey of frequent business travellers by Virgin Atlantic found that more than half of travellers enjoy arriving at the airport up to an hour early as amenities to make their time more effective are being improved all the time. These include free wifi, iPad docking stations and quiet work areas in lounges. Salon services, gourmet food and cocktails all certainly help enhance the business trip experience. Indeed, 21% get a massage or facial, 42% work and 81% dine.

Modern business travellers are not only likely to be connected to colleagues and clients much of the time, but they are often networking and making deals. According to Virgin Atlantic, one in five travellers have done business with someone they have met on a plane journey.

There can’t be a better time to be a business traveller

Networking has never been easier, with the large number of airport lounges today and a growing number of aeroplane bar areas in the new generation of double-deck, widebody and generally larger planes able to accommodate such features, like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777.

Some airlines allow you to make valuable business connections other ways: KLM’s Meet and Seat programme lets you view other passengers’ Facebook or Linkedin profile details and see where they are sitting. Delta has a mentorship programme, Innovative Class, putting up-and-coming professionals with an innovator in their field, while All Nippon Airways’ ANA Flight Connections helps LinkedIn users turn their online connections into in-person meetings.

During business trips, most employees are required to follow company guidelines and keep a record of expenses. E-commerce providers like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal, and Dwolla help provide this, making payments simpler than ever with travellers able to pay via their mobile devices, tablets and contactless credit cards.

We tend to think that the glamorous years of travel were during the likes of the Concorde and Pan Am era in the 1950s and 1960s, yet with all the phenomenal advances we have now, there surely can’t be a better time to be a business traveller?