Hotels gearing up for battle over the business traveler’s wallet

Now that business travelers are coming back into the travel market, everyone can’t stop talking about it. Of course, this is great news for airlines and hotels, as business travelers tend to spend more time on the road, have more financial flexibility and are willing to pay more for exactly the flights and locations they need. The occasional leisure traveler who hunts around for bargains, quite simply, doesn’t have the big cash.

So, it comes as no surprise at all that hotels are getting ready to welcome the business travelers back into the fold. It’s been lonely without these guys for the past two years, I suspect, especially with the budgets they command. And make no mistake about it: though they aren’t actually paying the tab, road warriors do have at least some choice in which hotels and airlines they choose.

Think about a frequent business traveler who spends three nights a week in hotel rooms for 40 weeks a year (it’s not as rare as you think). That’s 120 room-nights. At $200 a night (not unusual for business-friendly hotels in big cities), you’re looking at $24,000 per business traveler per year. That’s a hell of a lot more than a leisure traveler who spends nine nights a year in a hotel and is more price conscious … which could yield less than 10 percent of what one frequent business traveler brings to the table.

What do business travelers want? Obviously, a lot.Last month, I wrote about the findings of a recent Deloitte survey, which found that road warriors (such as those employed by Deloitte itself) want a lot more than a clean room. Work-friendly conditions, in fact, are at the top of the list. The memory of this from my white-collar travel days has not escaped me. I remember setting up my “office” in the room immediately after check-in, and that’s where I spent most of my in-room time during each stay (with crazy business schedules, the bed doesn’t get much use).

According to an article on MSNBC, I’m not alone. For example:

“I try to replicate what’s in my office” said Denis Lacerda, a partner for Rafael Cennamo, a fashion house, who commutes regularly between São Paulo, New York and Miami. Lacerda is currently a guest at the AKA Central Park, an extended-stay hotel that he says provides everything from office supplies and a printer/fax/copy machine to high-speed Internet and access to business TV channels. “All the important things you don’t think about but need to have,” he said.

Why is this so important? Well, back in my consulting days, it wasn’t unusual to put in an 80- or 90-hour work week, much of it coming on the road. You need to know you’ll be comfortable (to the extent possible) while pushing through an insane workload. We’re looking for all kinds of stuff – that hotels are adding – including “bigger desks, better lighting, more outlets and ergonomically correct chairs.”

The eagerness to please business travelers has risen to incredible levels, MSNBC continues:

“It’s a little bit of an arms race,” said Jan Freitag, vice president of global development for STR, a hotel research company. He compares it to when Westin’s “Heavenly Bed” was introduced. “People laughed,” he said, “but there was buzz. Everybody wanted them. Suddenly, it was ‘the Bed Wars.’ “

The needs of business travelers have been exacerbated by technology advancements. With the ubiquity of high-speed internet access and mobile devices, the workday doesn’t end shortly after the sun sets … and in some cases, it can last until shortly before it rises. MSNBC adds:

“With the Internet, e-mail, and cell phone, communication never stops,” said Bruce Ross, chief executive of Celebrity Fashion Group, a private label merchandising company. “You’ve got to work twice as hard today.”

In many cases, the in-room conveniences that this class of traveler wants is a tool in helping them to survive the quickening pace of business rather than merely stay in front of it.

Hotels, hungry for additional revenue and the lower sales costs associated with repeat guests, are investing in improving the business traveler experience, as it will be a critical factor in which brand takes the lead in the coming travel market recovery. The road warrior is coming back, and the hotels are waiting.

So, business travelers, what do you like in a hotel room? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Airlines getting scammed online, fighting back

Airlines lose a boatload of cash – tens of millions of dollars a year – because of online fraud. Think about it: you pay for your pillow and to check a bag because some degenerate can’t bother to work for a living. The airlines are keeping their customers in mind (shockingly), though, and they’re fighting back. Better protection systems, increased staff and a higher priority for prevention are now on the agenda as carriers seek to protect their coffers.

The stakes are high, and airlines are exposed. A Deloitte UK survey conducted in 2009, with 50 U.S. and global airlines responding, report that 48 percent have seen increases in fraud year-over-year, with average losses of $2.4 million a year. Yet, it could be far, far worse. CyberSource and Airline Information conducted a poll and came to an estimated loss amount of $1.4 billion in 2008.

According to USA Today:

“The general feedback from everybody … is that they see it getting worse,” says Graham Pickett, partner in charge of aviation services for Deloitte UK, which conducted its survey for the International Association of Airline Internal Auditors. “The main driver has been … the Internet, and in particular credit card type bookings.”

Airlines have invested in protecting their profits over the past two years, especially the larger companies. Of course, they aren’t all that willing to talk about specific measures:

“Common sense on this issue limits a discussion of what we do to track, prevent and seek prosecution of such occurrences,” says Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines. “We’re just not interested in providing a ‘how to’ lesson on the subject.”

The cyber-attack on airlines comes after online travel agencies, such as Orbitz, steeled their systems. For a while, they were the primary targets, with Orbitz, for example, getting spanked for millions of dollars a month by fraudsters.

The anti-fraud measures appear to be working. AirTran‘s team has reduced fraud losses to less than 1 percent of revenue, and Southwest says it has cut fraud by 73 percent.

How much does this matter? Think about all the small cuts you’ve had to deal with as a passenger. Every dollar matters to the airlines. Cutting fraud losses is just putting cash back in your pocket.

[photo by jepoirrier via Flickr]