Today’s business travellers, technology, and the hotel industry

Peter Waters, Director of Distribution,Global Hotel Group, Amadeus

Peter WatersToday’s business travellers, not unlike financial investors, are increasingly sophisticated, precise, and demanding. And the business travellers of the future are only going to be more so. We are intrigued by this shifting complexity. It’s something we’ve delved into extensively across numerous pieces of research. Our most recent, titled The 21st Century Business Traveller, drew on specially-commissioned research among 400 UK and Ireland business travellers working for large companies. We’ve also examined the business traveller in our Hotels 2020: Beyond Segmentation report, which focused on some of the technology angles.

Both of these reports indicated that the business traveller is increasingly demanding and is expected to introduce more and more complexity at numerous points of the hotel booking process, extending from hotelier to travel management companies (TMCs) to travel agents (TAs) and everywhere in between.

Today’s business traveller
To explain what I mean, let’s start by considering the current needs of the business traveller. They’re connected; personal technologies – such as smartphones and tablets – are increasingly important. However, whilst most business travellers (66%) can use desktop corporate booking tools to plan and modify their trips, only a third of respondents have access to mobile booking tools according to the survey conducted for our 21st Century Business Traveller research. Business travellers now more than ever require flexibility, adjusting their plans once they’re on the road – half (51%) of the survey respondents had to make changes to their travel plans in 2012 with 37% having to amend their flights.

So the business traveller is connected, rapidly moving, and short on time. They don’t like providing the same information again and again. Re-entering data at various steps of the hotel process is viewed as a waste of time. They also tend to respect their company’s travel policy – two-thirds did not deviate from policy in 2012. Of course, conversely, this means that one in three went off-policy and interestingly, 15% of business travellers we surveyed said the corporate travel department hindered their ability to do business.

Ultimately, the report found that convenience is prioritised by business travellers above cost and comfort, with 62% of respondents stating this was the most important factor. These business travellers are an excellent example of the ‘me’ generation – a shift we’re seeing in the hotel industry itself – one in which a guest sees the world revolving around them, what they need and what they want. For the business traveller, this could be anything from having an integrated, one-step booking process through their TMC or corporate travel planning tool, to having access to a boutique hotel in a local destination close to their work meetings. Just over a fifth (22%) stated cost as their top priority, with only 15% putting comfort first.

Supporting both the ‘me’ generation and the growing trend towards bleisure, 32% of the business travellers who took part in our survey would also like to have the opportunity to extend their business trip to include self-funded leisure travel and 14% would like to be provided with information into local sights.

What does this mean for the hotel industry?
The travel industry is struggling to learn how to interact with the ‘me’ generation. These increasingly demanding business travellers aren’t always able to get what they want. Their needs are too complex, their demands too many, just like investors, business travellers are ever more connected and therefore informed and able to shop and compare at will. And that’s a challenge that needs a collaborative response from the travel industry. Hoteliers, TMCs and TAs, just like stockbrokers, need to be able to present a variety of content and purchasing options to customers in a similarly dynamic marketplace, with constantly fluctuating prices. For the travel industry, they need strong descriptive content on a vast range of properties and competitive prices at their fingertips. Travellers will increasingly look to TAs to cut through the complexity of numerous interfaces and options. By having the right information available in real-time, akin to a stock exchange, bookers will be able to meet the needs of tomorrow’s guest.

Consider a business traveller who wants to add a leisure trip to their work trip. TAs need the right variety of hotels and rates to meet these requests, and the know-how to book them. This is where the long tail of content is king – and where technology can make a real difference. Hoteliers who can deliver on this via the business traveller’s preferred channels will have the competitive edge.

How this is connected to technology
Within properties themselves, the rate of advances in technology mean hoteliers will need to be prepared to meet the variety of technical business travel needs. Some guests might need high-speed internet. Others might request rooms without any tech as a sort of ‘digital retreat’. There’s also an element of hotels knowing guests before they arrive. Through understanding a guest’s previous hotel preferences, hoteliers can adjust rooms or offerings accordingly.

Another way TAs, TMCs and hoteliers can respond to the shifting business traveller is through integrating social media and mobile into customer interaction. One of the most common complaints of travellers we’ve surveyed is the feeling that their voices are not being heard. Social media would help alleviate this by creating communication and brand loyalty. To create a cohesive dialogue, guest information will increasingly need to be available on a single source, meaning it can be accessed and integrated across all customer touch points.

The bottom line: business travellers want convenience and ease
Ultimately, the number one priority of business travellers, as cited in our research, is convenience. They want things streamlined. They are time poor and busy, increasingly connected and evermore digital. These traits will require hoteliers to change.

Currently, business travellers are at the mercy of what is offered. Here is where those across the hotel industry can make a positive change. Everyone from the TMCs to the TAs to the hoteliers themselves can help business travellers get what they want.

In summary, I would say that as part of the ‘me’ generation, the business traveller is demanding more from the hotel industry. While the transaction process might remain the same, the context of that transaction is different. How hotels and bookers relate to the traveller must evolve. I believe this will happen through tailoring both the guest experience and guest interaction. There will always be those travellers who just want a cheap rate; but increasingly, guests will be more focused on facilities, services, philosophies, and ‘what the hotel can do for me’ to improve convenience and ease.