Crowne Plaza hotels help business travelers “switch off”

Crowne Plaza hotels in Africa, Europe and the Middle East have put together a service designed to help business travelers “switch off” at the end of a long day.

And no, the service does not involve forcing them to hand over their Blackberry – it is not much more than a polite reminder phone call at 7pm telling them that the time has come to put the PDA away and to close the laptop.

Crowne Plaza did some research on business travelers, and discovered that 60% of them struggle to turn their gear off before going to bed. According to the research, 27% of Brits actually take their gadgetry to bed – and will regularly check for messages during the night. Compare that to the Dutch, with just 8% and you’ll understand why 90 per cent of Dutch people claim to be completely relaxed before going to bed versus just 75 per cent across the UK, Germany and Belgium.

The “Switch Off” service is part of the Crowne Plaza SleepAdvantage program. The new sleep services will be introduced at 92 Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa including 24 across the UK and Ireland by the end of 2010. SleepAdvantage will offer guests luxurious bedding, dedicated quiet zones, a guaranteed wake-up call where you’ll get your call on time – or a full refund of your room price.

White Collar Travel Extra: Charles Hotel, Skype and the Business Traveler

The Charles Hotel‘s recent small gesture may actually be a bold move. The hotel, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has decided to add Skype and video cameras to the free computer station that occupy rooms once dedicated to ice machines. It doesn’t look like much more than a small concession to weary travelers who want to stay in touch with their loved ones, but it’s actually a fairly hefty commitment.

Though the proliferation cell phones has made using the hotel phones unnecessary, the Skype-equipped stations still undermine a hotel revenue stream, which is tantamount to the hotel’s announcing: “We’ll take money out of our pocket to keep our guests happy.

The stations obviate the need for guests to lug around laptops and cameras and such, which would seem like a natural benefit to the business traveler. Of course, I toted mine around on most of my trips because of the business need, and I don’t see many of that ilk dropping their laptops.Nonetheless, there is an upside for the road warrior. In addition to not having to deal with a camera, the stations obviate the need to install Skype on their business computers. This can help business travelers remain compliant with company IT policies while still having the opportunity to see their friends and family every night when they’re on the road.

Of course, this is only one gesture from one hotel. If it works, however, it won’t take long for the competition to notice – that’s when we’ll see it start to pop up everywhere.

Read more White Collar Travel.

Some business travelers benefit from the recession

A growing number of business travelers is trading the appellation “road warrior” for “day tripper.” Tighter corporate travel budgets are prompting these frequent fliers to complete their roundtrips in one day, rather than assume the expenses of a hotel stay and meals while on the road. Also, it comes with the perk of not being able to entertain, which cuts travel expenses further. These jaunts tend to involve flights of no more than three hours, even though some people are going coast-to-coast and back without bothering to check in to a hotel.

For some, it isn’t just a case of budgetary discipline, though that factor will never disappear in a recessionary environment. Business travelers are also drawn to the notion of being able to get home at night. Even a late-night arrival means plopping your head on your own pillow and having breakfast with the family.

Of course, these one-day runs are grueling. Even for a two-hour flight, you have to get to the airport an hour early, and unless you live right next to the airport, you’re probably looking at another hour to get there. So, to catch a 6 AM flight, you’re leaving the house at 4 AM (with a wakeup of around 3:30 AM at best), and you’re not touching the ground at your destination until 8 AM … assuming there are no delays. Depending on traffic and distance, you get to the office at 9 AM and work the entire day. To catch a 7 PM flight, you leave the office at 5 PM to get there an hour early. After two hours in the air (again, assuming nothing goes wrong), you’ll probably get home by 10 PM. That’s an 18-hour day; it’s tough.While the actual cost savings is being questioned, in my experience, it’s substantial. In 2003 and 2004, I made frequent runs from Boston to New York. With the rate my company had with the Delta Shuttle, coming home at night was a no-brainer. On longer trips, the savings may not be as substantial — as you have a higher fare and likely a less expensive hotel than you’ll find in Manhattan — but you’re still looking at more than $200 a night, assuming a $150 room and meal expenses.

The cost savings, however, may come at the expense of your health. Some experts see this sort of aggressive travel as rough on your body … and I can tell you it’s a bit rough on the spirit, too. But, if you have enough time between one-day runs, it isn’t so bad at all.

And, don’t worry: even though you lose the hotel points, you’ll still pick up the miles.

Airline secret societies

There’s a special type of membership level, but the airlines don’t want you to know about it … unless you’re dropping an easy $50,000 a year on full fare tickets with the same airline. The topic, which comes up from time to time, is in the headlines again thanks to the work of George Clooney and Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air.

American Airlines is mentioned in the flick, but the carrier won’t talk about the subject itself. No details have been released on how to attain these levels of air travel greatness, except the obvious: you need to be a rich frequent traveler or control a company where a lot of people are on the road all the time. The perks of this secret society include fantastic upgrades, bat-phones to experienced agents who answer on the first ring, priority check-in, lounge access and airport escorts when you’re layover’s about to go under. Simply, it translates to real customer service, a rarity in this industry.

Status has become a commodity, with double miles bonuses and other tricks helping frequent flyers amp up their accounts faster, a side-effect of airlines looking to make their passengers as loyal as possible. Because of this, anyone who wants to be a real player — e.g., American’s ConciergeKey, Continental‘s Chairman’s Circle and United‘s Global Services — will have to pierce the inner circle.

Only 20,000 of United’s 1 million program members were allowed into United’s program, which requires 100,000 miles or 100 segments. Delta is the most secretive, with Executive Partner status, which has been replaced by Diamond Medallion level status, requiring 125,000 qualifying miles or 140 qualifying segments.

Okay, so you can figure out all the basic benefits — just like every other status, only faster and bigger and bitter. And then, it isn’t hard to let your mind wander to such upsides as confirming upgrades 120 hours in advance (instead of 100 hours). But, this only scratches the surface. Forrester Research reveals that airlines know which planes have the greatest VIP density and use this to assign gate priority. A Continental passenger and Chairman’s Circle member — who took more than 300 flights and traveled more than 400,000 miles (no bonus miles tucked in there) — was able to finagle some time on an MD-80 slight simulator, because the airline values his business.

See, it is possible to get some love from the airlines. You just have to be ready to spend an absolute fortune … and make the airline need you.

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Corporate travel databases: give morale a shot in the arm

“Corporate,” “database” and “morale” usually don’t show up in the same sentence – at least not without some sort of negative word nestled in there. Images of tedious data entry are conjured, which does nothing for your state of mind while on the road. Yet, these words can be joined, and the resulting concept can be a gold mine for any company with legions of road warriors. Every employee accumulates knowledge while traveling. They learn which restaurants are best (and worst) in a particular city, and they develop coping strategies that their colleagues may find useful.

The curse of a travel-heavy company, of course, is that the employees don’t see each other often enough. When they do, talk turns to business first, and many of these tips remain hidden. A single place where the collective wisdom can be stored and shared can make business travel much more enjoyable tolerable while fostering communication where it might not exist otherwise.

I’m still stunned by the fact that I only saw the corporate travel database in action once during close to a decade of frequent business travel (frequent = around 40 weeks a year). It was pure genius, worked well and was used regularly. With the social media tools now available, it’s even easier than it was back then to implement the concept. Rather than a “database” in the traditional sense, a company could use a Facebook page, LinkedIn account or even a simple message board to share ideas, experiences and advice with coworkers.

So, how do you get a corporate travel database off the ground?

1. Someone needs to own it

No project gets off the ground in Corporate America without a “champion.” Clear it with whoever has the rubber stamp before pulling the trigger, and become the first contributor. Post regularly, and tell people about it – especially those who are going where you’ve already been.

2. Identify likely helpers

Find the eager beavers who will join the cause – every company has a few. Everybody wants to be heard, and this is a save and easy way to gain a voice.

3. Publicize your successes

As people take advantage of these shared tips, let everyone know, especially if there was a business impact. For example, “John Smith’s client loved dinner at Pomodoro Rosso … we was so tired of restaurants in midtown.”

4. Get granular

Simply being redundant with TripAdvisor and other user-generated content sites won’t help you out. Think local, unusual and relevant to the travelers in your company. You’re looking to solve a problem. So, find and contribute real on-the-ground intelligence. Late-night bars that will be open after a day of marathon meetings, for example, are both valuable and had to find when you’re new in town. The names of restaurant managers who are sympathetic to a little palm-greasing can be gold when you need a table on short notice. Every detail counts.

5. Respect boundaries

Know your company’s policies, and abide by them. If you use Facebook for your travel-sharing tool, be sure access is tightly controlled. Also, management needs to be on board, and the “right” people (different in every company) have to be kept in the loop. If your tool is developed properly, you’ll have one hell of an intelligence file. Just think of what would happen if it got into the wrong hands!

So many companies fail to tap the collective knowledge of their employees in so many ways. While a corporate travel database may not boost sales or share business information, it can help with morale and client entertainment (and, ultimately, relationships). Knowledgeable people become more productive, especially when they don’t have to cope with the quirks of a strange place while figuring out the intricacies of a new project. And, it’s always good to have at your fingertips the info you need to blow off a little steam. In the end, performance goes up, and people feel better about their jobs.

We have the tools at our disposal, and there’s no shortage of information. The only thing missing is the effort that pulls the two together.