GLOBAL REPORT—The lines between leisure travel and business travel are blurring, leaving hoteliers and travel managers alike scrambling to meet the expectations of the next generation of corporate travelers.
Millennials raised on intuitive search and booking platforms are finding themselves forced into outdated hotel experiences that fail to meet expectations and antiquated travel-management platforms dictated by corporate travel policies.
Hoteliers and travel managers need to embrace the leisure experience and put it in a context that’s congruent with managed travel, said Nick Vournakis, senior VP and GM for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada.
Vournakis was one of six panelists who discussed the next generation of corporate travelers, among other topics, during a session titled “Travel Industry Leadership: Managing through Constant Change” last week at the Global Business Travel Association Convention in Boston.
The key is identifying with this customer segment and understanding what they want from the travel experience, said Don Jones, VP of corporate and travel sales for the Americas at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Often that varies by destination, he said.
Often that means intuitive platforms that allow for easy-to-use search and booking. The proliferation of innovative distribution channels emerging in the leisure space is case in point.
Beyond that, it might be a matter of producing a hotel experience or product that complements the niche’s expectations, Jones said.
“It’s really rethinking ‘What does check-in look like in Palo Alto versus what check-in might look like in Santa Barbara,’” he said. Each property has unique business draws that attract various clienteles. The hotel experience should reflect that with more personalized approaches to service.
At the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, for example, managers witnessed a notable drop off in the usage of the property’s concierge desk because corporate travelers were using online tools to research the destination before and upon arrival. The desk has since been converted to a coffee bar, which has generated a significant uptick in traffic.
The next generation also might have different expectations about the hotel product in general, said Phillip Pena, senior VP, global head of hotel and ground transportation at Citigroup.
As a travel buyer, the group surveys its travelers annually to discern their needs and wants. He said the younger generation is asking for a diversity of hotels, such as more Andaz- and W-type properties, to be included in corporate programs.
“Our travelers, 35% said they wanted more boutique-style, more social-type hotels for their travel experience,” he said.
Give them what they want
The way Vournakis sees it, there are three things that really matter to the next generation of business travelers: context, flexibility and mobility.
Context is all about orientation. Corporate travelers want information to help them navigate their surroundings. Location-based push notifications, constant feedback from peer networks and the ability to seamlessly navigate are all key, he said.
That involves a lot of crossover with social media, Jones added.
Flexibility is a facet of control, Vournakis said.
“We know what they will expect in the future is flexibility,” he said. That will push the boundaries that govern traditional travel policies. “We need to start thinking about the traditional travel policy very differently,” he said.
Mobility might be the most important, the panelists agreed.
Millennial business travelers want to be connected at all times, said Vournakis of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada. He cited a study the company did in Australia that found 41% of business travelers would refuse to go to a location where they were not connected.
The next generation of corporate travelers assumes a reasonable amount of safety and security, comfort and the ability to be productive and stay connected, said Lane Dubin, VP/GM and head of sales for American Express Business Travel. “Mobile is the platform that will allow them to do all those things.”
Hoteliers who respond with key mobile initiatives to meet those needs have a leg up, he said. Dubin pointed to research conducted by American Express Business Travel that found out of 100 travel policies the group studied none addressed mobile interaction.
Four Seasons is one of many hotel chains trying to push innovation in the mobile space. Jones said the company is making efforts to expedite some of the more tedious aspects of travel on behalf of its next-gen road warriors.
He cited advances in check-in technology as one example. A technologically savvy traveler might receive a notification on his iPhone upon landing in New York. “We would like to check you in,” Jones said. Upon confirming the check in, the hotel would send him a key code so the traveler could bypass the front desk and go straight to his room.
The next generation of corporate travelers is beginning to expect that level of digital interaction during a hotel stay, Jones said. Hoteliers have to make sure the technology corporate travelers have in their personal lives also exists in hotels.
Online reviews are another good example, Jones said, pointing to Four Seasons’ inclusion of TripAdvisor reviews on its websites. “It’s such an honest … and immediate dialogue,” he said.