Hotels and spas use corporate retreats for sweet financial revenge

It’s hard to tell who wants a business travel rebound: business travelers or the hospitality companies that cater to them. Routine road warrior jaunts suck, but there are executive retreats, training programs and other opportunities that do appeal even to the most jaded of the white collar folks.

So, the hotels are fighting to get business travelers back, according to Business Insider, and they’re getting creative. Luxury properties, including spas, were nailed by the financial crisis and ensuing recession. They have a lot of ground to make up. To do this, they’re coming up with new programs to get the corporate folks to open their wallets. Some of them are pretty bizarre, even retaliatory. Business Insider reports:

Their new approach is luring clients back to their bedrooms for “must-have” bonding and training sessions that put execs in compromising positions.

Retreats that specialize in corporate getaways have been cooking up programs that encourage extremely awkward and potentially dangerous bonding activities, like fake-trying to kill each other.

Call it the, “You’re putting us out of business? We’re going to push you off tall objects, hike mountains naked with 50 pounds on your back, try to kill each other and make you beg for more” – strategy.

Even with these implications, the response from the business world still seems to be a resounding, “Thank you, sir! May I have another!”

Bank of America, Google and Toyota are among the companies that have gotten on board with these programs. Some of them do get pretty weird, such as:

The icing on the cake is The Death Race, where co-workers sit for 45 minutes in an ice-broken pond, gulp a gallon of milk (even if you’re lactose intolerant), crawl under barbed wire and sprint up a greased-up ramp.

Don’t you remember when the corporate people were just interested in making money? It was all so much easier back then …

[photo by Boss Tweed via Flickr]

Business travel picks up again – but not for the reasons you think

Did you see more suits at the gate this year? You probably didn’t, but that doesn’t mean businesses aren’t spending more on travel.

The latest data from the National Business Travel Association, in a survey of 170 corporate travel managers in North America, indicates that corporate travel budgets climbed 5.5 percent in 2010, and they’re set to gain another 4.5 percent next year.

But, it’s not for the reasons you think.

Sure, there are a few more people in seats, according to Craig Banikowski, the NBTA’s chief executive. He says that “companies are already getting their teams back on the road to help build business.” But, the underlying driver of the increase in business travel spending is that airlines and hotels are discounting less and kicking their prices higher.

Nonetheless, the NBTA report is optimistic. It finds that 72 percent of corporate travel managers believe that the business travel industry has improved over the past year. And, 63 percent believe it will continue to do so over the coming year.

Notes Banikowski, “As the economy continues to improve and both domestic and international costs rise, we will see airlines and hotels wield more negotiation power.” He adds, “Many travel buyers are already experiencing more strict market thresholds and expect this to result in smaller corporate discounts going forward.”

[photo by Mobile Edge Laptop Cases via Flickr]

The (Un)Wired: A Free Wi-Fi Manifesto

The year is twenty-ten A.D. and Wi-Fi should be free.
We travelers bear no grudge with you as long as you agree,
But if you’re that one schmuck who likes to play it old school,
Charging folks for internet–well, then basically, you’re a tool.

Your penny-pinching greed smells just like boardroom boredom.
It’s out of touch and backwards, not to mention just plain dumb.
Please get with the program, be ye airport or hotel:
If you don’t have free Wi-Fi, then you can go to hell.

Maybe somehow you’re still stuck way back in 1999,
But nowadays, we’re all online, everywhere and all the time.
We’re riding on a bullet train to a place called progress,
Get on it or get off it; win or lose, more or less.

Now don’t start waggin’ your finger and talkin’ ’bout capitalism.
‘Cuz what you’re doin’ and what that is, capitalism it isn’t.
You preach that competition matters most in a race,
But Bandwidth Bandit’s the losing horse, so here’s my trophy in your face.

Don’t believe the suits who tell us bloggers we’re too sassy,
‘Cuz let me tell you dittoheads, “Do you know what’s so not classy?”
Welcoming frequent flyers who only wanna soak their feet,
Then telling your five-star guest to go and check his email on the street.

Hey Luddite, while you’re at it, dream big, don’t stop there–
Stick your dirty hands in the water, in the men’s room, if you dare.
You could make a fortune charging for all the stuff that should be free.
A nickel to wipe, a dime to pee, and half a buck to breathe.Real funny how some of you think Wi-Fi’s, like, optional,
An extra perk like cushioned hangars or an ice bucket that’s full.
Well, keep your stupid coffee machine and you’re fancy new remote.
We watch TV online now, perhaps you didn’t know?

Now we’ve all got 3- and 4G, it’s isn’t like we need you,
It’s just your stupid concrete walls keep the signal from getting through.
So please stop annoying us or perhaps find another hobby?
‘Cuz right now I keep running with my laptop to the lobby.

I’ve been around the world, from Port Harcourt to Beijing,
The third world’s better wired than your top floor executive wing.
I can Twitter in Rwanda, get on Facebook and type,
But in your three-hundred-dollar hotel room, I can’t log on to Skype.

Now I spy with my bionic eyes the not-so-distant future,
And if you wanna be part of it, then let me offer you this here clue:
Soon every single traveler’s gonna check in with an iPad–
If your lousy hotel ain’t got Wi-Fi, than watch us get real iMad.

We won’t show up with pitchforks or with gas bombs at your door,
The way you’ll know we’re real pissed off is the way in which we ignore.
We’ll take a different airline, find a different place to play,
We’ll see you got no free signal, and we’ll simply walk away.

Really guys, don’t fret too much, it’s really no big whoop:
Your hotel will make a nice warehouse, or high-rise chicken coop.
Sit back and enjoy your silly ten-buck charges while they last,
You’ll need the cash come winter, when you’re freezing your homeless ass.

Sadly, it’s not just hotels who behave this way,
Not naming any names, LAX, IAD, JFK,
We’re talking to you ‘cuz your airports are such a mess.
You’re necessary but you still suck, so why not suck a little less?

Give us free Wi-Fi and we won’t hate you as much.
(Surely it costs less than nasty airport fudge.)
But you still just don’t get it and that’s exactly why,
We’d rather fly through Singapore, Portland or Dubai.

So here’s the proverbial memo you’ll keep swearing you didn’t get:
“Give us free Wi-Fi dammit, we deserve our internet.”
If not, then don’t complain when history adds you to the pile,
With drive-in movies, the horse-drawn carriage, civilization on the Nile.

So kudos to all those companies who know us, love and get us:
The mom and pop joints, B&Bs and dingy Chinatown bus.
You corporate minds should wake up now and please smell the coffee:
Starbucks has free Wi-Fi now, and so does MickeyDees.

What’s that you say? You still can’t catch the gist?
Of what everyone’s been sayin’–your kids and The Economist.
Really guys, it’s not so hard and I’m pleading on one knee,
It’s already twenty-ten A.D. and Wi-Fi should be free.

Peace out.

(Photo: Flickr Miklo Olivier, Dana-2)

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.

Events at The Ritz-Carlton

Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall's Ballroom Terrace, where a number of events can be hosted
This past weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the annual Insurance Advisory Council meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Rose Hall, Jamaica. The Ritz-Carlton hosts a yearly visit with meeting planners who work with insurance giants (no one from AIG to my knowledge; that scandal was left to the St. Regis) to find out the needs of their group and, of course, to show off what they can do a little in hopes that it will encourage the planners to book their hotels for those big company getaways. They meet with groups from other industries, as well.

I recently wrote about the Meetings Within Reach package which is offering businesses very competitive prices. Corporate annual meetings and large groups account for a huge slice of the Ritz-Carlton occupancy pie, and it was no surprise to find that they really know how to do it right. Over the course of a couple of days of meals, activities, late night pool parties and a fair amount of rum, I found myself bonding with this group of people I didn’t otherwise know, learning about not just their work, but their lives and how they react in different situations.

For example, rather than playing hippy-dippy trust exercises, the Ritz-Carlton offers your group a chance to check out the local zip-line, paint a local orphanage, and showers you with elaborate parties including music, dancing, fortune-telling and more.

Of course, as always, it’s the little things that make Ritz-Carlton hotels special — and especially luxurious. Check out the gallery to see what your company’s annual meeting could look like.
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