Despite the challenges of the economy, budget cuts and new travel fees, business travel has been on the upswing over the past five years: only one in five survey respondents has traveled less for business since 2008. However, the survey revealed that the traveler of 2013 has become laser-focused on value in order to adapt to an increasingly challenging environment.
"As an upper upscale hotel brand with a significant business traveler customer base, we set out five years ago to take a regular pulse of this audience, so we could understand how these guests are traveling and better accommodate their needs on the road," says John Rogers, Global Head, Embassy Suites Hotels. "With 2013 marking the fifth anniversary of the survey, we tapped top industry experts to reflect on the past five years of business travel, identify key trends that are impacting these travelers today and look ahead to what's to come."
Embassy Suites brought together a panel of industry experts last month in Washington, D.C. to reflect on the survey and the state of business travel. Experts included: Cynthia Good, small business owner (CEO & editor of Little PINK Book); David Kelly, author of About.com's Business Travel Guide; and Ramsey Qubein, freelance business travel journalist. The panel discussion was moderated by Dan Booth, executive editor of Business Traveler USA and Business Travel Executive.
The Economic Crunch: Stricter Budgets and More Fees...
It's no surprise that the economy has had an impact on business travel since the U.S. economic downturn in 2008. Nearly 80 percent of survey respondents report that the economic climate changed the way they traveled for business over the past five years, including an increase in teleconferencing (33%), more pressure to book accommodations that offer great value (29%) and only flying coach (25%). The soft economy resulted in stricter travel rules, with approximately one-third of respondents reporting that their company's business travel policies became more austere over the past five years, and nearly 70 percent of survey respondents said they're focusing on opting for "safe" travel options that don't raise red flags with their company's finance department in 2013, as opposed to spending a little extra money and pushing the limits to have a more comfortable and enjoyable trip.
"Face time is extremely important when it comes to growing business," says Good, "but at the same time, companies need to cut costs during tough economic times, which can mean more restrictive business travel policies. This puts businesses and travelers in a very tough spot when it comes to maximizing business potential while minimizing costs."
Value is King...
Between tighter company budgets and a spike in travel fees, business travelers have become savvier when it comes to finding value in every trip. Nearly half of survey respondents said a great value is most important when booking a hotel for business travel in 2013, which means that hotel brands need to keep value top-of-mind when catering to their business travel guests. In addition, almost half (47%) of respondents said their biggest business travel "pet peeve" over the past five years is new fees for previously free items or amenities, which means that travelers are increasingly seeking travel options that can continue to provide this value in some other way.
"The business travelers of 2013 are expecting as much bang for their buck as possible, without a dip in quality, so Embassy Suites is proud to provide tremendous value in every stay," says Rogers. "Value isn't just about cost, it's about the convenience, the upscale experience and the 'more' guests get with every stay with us, including two-room suites that give them space to stretch out and relax; free, cooked-to-order breakfast that gets them powered up for the day; and our nightly Complimentary Evening Reception* where they can unwind and connect with colleagues over complimentary beverages and snacks."
The Rise of Social Media...
Another trend that has shaped the business travel experience is the rise of social media, which over the past five years has changed how seasoned travelers interact with travel brands. A whopping 85 percent of survey respondents said they would follow a travel brand on social media in order to learn about travel deals (61%) learn about other travelers' experiences with that brand (29%) or stay updated on the brand's latest news (28%). Further validating the importance of social media, more than three-fourths of survey respondents think online travel reviews are critical when preparing for business travel. And while social media hasn't totally taken over traditional means of interaction with travel brands - more than half of respondents said they still call a brand's customer service department to share a business travel experience - there is a generational shift on the horizon, as nearly two-thirds of business travelers ages 21 to 29 would do so via the brand's social media page.
The Future of Business Travel...
Seasoned travelers are feeling more positively about business travel in 2013, with 85 percent saying they find business travel to be more enjoyable now compared to five years ago. The explanation for this trend? "In the past, business travelers were more at the whim of brands," says Kelly. "Now, the customer is at the center of the business travel universe. In 2013, they have more control over their business travel experiences and can expect that travel brands will make their individual needs a priority."
According to the panel, a more personalized, smarter travel experience is on the near horizon, which will further engender positive feelings about business travel. "With business travelers increasingly at the center of the travel experience, brands are developing more personalized experiences to meet individual needs, be that how they communicate with guests or how they reward their loyalists," says Qubein. "The value-savvy business traveler of today - and the future - is looking for and expecting travel brands to meet their individual needs."
As value continues to be of utmost importance and travel brands look to develop more personalized experiences with the customer, the concept of "smarter travel" is on the rise. "The business traveler of 2013 is more empowered and in tune with the concept of value," says Good, "so they're making smarter travel choices for their company, their clients and themselves."
The Embassy Suites Business Travel Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 700 U.S. adults ages 21 and older who have taken one or more business trips in the past year, between February 14th and February 25th, 2013, using an email invitation and an online survey.
Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.7 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.
*Service of alcohol subject to state and local laws. Must be of legal drinking age.
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