Business Traveller

As work blends into play, hotel becomes social hub

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Travellers like different things from their hotels.

Some adore the privacy of their deluxe room, away from the demands of family or roommates. In solipsistic comfort, awash with their choice of digital entertainment, they are fed, watered and tidied up after at the dial of a short extension. Others appreciate the more communitarian aspects of a home-away-from-home; the serendipitous conversation at the bar, competitive company in the gym, playmates in the pool, the bustle and hum of the lobby making laptop chores less lonely.

Many more of us probably enjoy a bit of both (I’ve always felt, for example, that business hotels should arrange some of their breakfast tables in a way to facilitate conversation).

Back in 2007, Holiday Inn conducted an extensive study of their customers and concluded that their frequent guests belonged to the communitarian category. Four years later, the physical manifestation of that insight has been unveiled. Their prototype property, Holiday Inn Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia is the first to open a 5,000 square foot Social Hub in its lobby.

Is this the answer to the changing needs and behaviours of business and leisure travellers, or a PR stunt? (I was once on an upmarket hotel group’s press junket in Asia where assembled journalists couldn’t hide their mirth after being sombrely informed by a branding executive that the entrance to the property was now to be termed a “transitional portal”, so I’m wary about such things…)

Travelling through the cloud on a tablet

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John McHugh, VP and Chief Marketing Officer, Brocade

As technology and business travel become ever more inextricably connected, I talk to a man whose life is a symbiosis of both worlds

John McHugh, VP and Chief Marketing Officer of networking infrastructure firm Brocade, proudly sits on both sides of the buyer-seller fence. On one hand, a WiFi-less or WiFi-jammed hotel will not be seeing his custom again in a hurry; on the other, his company offers hotels WiFi deployment.

Ancient wonders, all to yourself

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Tourism at Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, we read, has plummeted. At the Giza Pyramids, not one Western tourist could be seen by a Reuters correspondent as the sun set on an April weekday. Surely this makes it the perfect time to visit?

Egypt’s tourism minister has forecast that 2011 revenue will be 25 percent lower than the previous year, but even this may be bullish; many travel companies are offering large discounts. This has dealt a devastating blow to the millions of Egyptians (one in eight) whose livelihoods depend on the 14 million or so visitors who until this January visited annually.

How fare’s thee?

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Here’s what we know. Air-passage demand is rising, along with airlines’ costs as $100-a-barrel oil erodes bottom lines (U.S. crude hit $112.05 yesterday). As a result, air fares continue their upward journey. Leisure travel this summer will almost certainly be affected, but at what point, if any, will business voyagers start to baulk at fare increases?

This week and last, U.S. airlines have been releasing their quarterly results. Losses among the larger carriers were substantial, though smaller than expected.

The corporate card game

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You work for a boutique-sized firm. For want of a better term, you’re in middle-management. You don’t have a corporate credit card but are on the road quite a bit. Sometimes you’re away for over a fortnight and need to shell out a couple of thousand pounds for flights and hotel rooms and rental cars and expensive dinners. That all goes on your personal credit card.

You have access to a whizzy online expense tool, but repayments are not instant. Your credit card direct-debits your current account and your overdraft function can’t take that kind of hit. Your credit card company hits you for interest.

Why City + Airport = the Future

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- United Parcel Service aircrafts are loaded with containers full of packages bound for their final destination at the UPS Worldport All Points International Hub. REUTERS/John Sommers II

United Parcel Service aircrafts are loaded with containers full of packages bound for their final destination at the UPS Worldport All Points International Hub. REUTERS/John Sommers II

It’s no longer ok to be a big city. Globalisation is Darwinian and only the hubbiest of hubs will survive. If we want best-of-the-planet goods to arrive the next morning, we must worship the airport.

Triple-digit oil and business travel

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A lot has happened since March 2, when IATA director-general Giovanni Bisignani, commenting on global airlines’ oil-hit net profit margins, referred to the estimated 1.4 percent 2011 figure as more worthy of a charity than an industry. Even that measly increment, Bisignani added on March 29, is “under considerable pressure.”

As we reported on the 2nd, IATA’s forecasts assume an average oil price of $96 per barrel for Brent crude this year. Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel, said Bisignani, adds $1.6 billion in costs to airlines, which are estimated to have hedged 50 percent of their fuel purchases this year.

Travel as an escape

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As I write this, the first U.S. chartered flights are leaving Japan carrying those military families and private citizens who wish to leave. Unlike the destinations affected by the 2004 tsunami, business travellers know the futuristic conurbation of Tokyo well. Its generation-next skyscrapers and bullet trains make for one of the slickest corporate hubs on the planet.

We, and the rest of the connected world, watch agape as this most civilised country deals with the disaster, very much doubting that if such a cataclysm befell us, we would behave with such patience, decorum, dignity.