Business travelers are looking for some of the same things they have always sought such as a clean, comfortable room and bed at a safe, convenient location that is reasonably priced. But they are also looking for other amenities to make life on the road a bit easier.
“They are looking for Internet access, of course,” said Kenny Glavan, general manager of the Holiday Inn Airport and the Holiday Inn Express Sportsplex, both in Gulfport. “That seems to be huge. About four years ago we were looking at phone revenue and found out that our phone revenues were decreasing. It was because people were communicating on the Internet. Because of Internet usage, phone revenue is not as big a source of income as in the past.”
Some hotels have increased phone charges as a result with long distance charges as high as $5 to $15 per minute. Those kinds of rates when long distance can be purchased elsewhere for pennies a minute can leave guests fuming. Those higher phone bills may be an attempt to recapture revenue that has been lost as customers turn to the Internet, the cell phone or a phone card for long distance communication.
Glavan said high phone charges are a mistake as some customers might perceive it as price gouging. “It’s all about service and all about value,” he said.
He added that while value is important to business travelers, they aren’t necessarily seeking the cheapest rate. They want a place conducive to business including improved workspace. A full desk with appropriate lighting and computer hookups is needed so the business traveler can spread out to work.
And room service has to be excellent.
“We’re finding out business travelers are more demanding,” Glavan said. “They want quality food service, not just a hamburger or a hotdog. They want good food delivered fresh out of the kitchen.”
Glavan said his hotels have added state-of-the-art synthetic heating disks that are preheated and placed under food. These devices can keep food warm for about 20 minutes longer than in the past.
Another amenity that business travelers are starting to expect is a television set in the room with a keyboard attached that can be used to turn the TV into a computer for Internet access.
Scott Sledge, general manager of the Cabot Lodge in Ridgeland, agrees that Internet access is important. He says some travelers aren’t carrying laptops as much because they only need it to check e-mail.
“They need to be able to check their e-mail on a daily basis,” Sledge said. “They are looking for facilities that have the ability to check e-mail such as a business center within the hotel. Our society is increasingly dependent on the Internet. We are finding there is more demand for two-line phones. That is so they can be on the phone at the same time they are on the Internet.”
Business travelers want no surprises or hassles. Sledge said they want fast, efficient service without any unpleasant incidents. They also prefer a facility with exercise facilities to keep up with their exercise regimen while away from home, and are interested in other attractions in the area such as restaurants and retail establishments.
“They are looking for a facility that has all of those characteristics because being away from home is difficult,” Sledge said. “If you are traveling three or four or five days a week, you want to be able to feel comfortable. You also want the facility to be able to meet your expectations. Life on the road is stressful enough. They want to be able to stay in a hotel that can efficiently process them and provide them with amenities and services they are willing to pay for without incident.”
On the meeting facility side of the equation, business travelers want ease of access.
“Accessibility is key whether it is flying or driving,” said Donna Tarasavage, sales director for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Availability and price of quality hotel rooms is important. Quality is up to the individual group’s discretion. It means different things to different people.”
Also important to meeting planners are the amenities available in the area ranging from restaurants and shopping, golf and museums. One plus for areas like the Coast, Tunica and other gaming destinations is that they provide evening entertainment including musical and dance performances as well as gaming.
“Meeting and convention planners tend to like gaming destinations because they don’t have to plan activities every night because the evening entertainment is sort of built in,” Tarasavage said. “And it saves the organization some expense as far as entertainment.”
First on the list of convention or meeting planners is whether the facility can meet their physical requirements. After that, cost is probably the biggest consideration.
“With the economic conditions, cost is very important,” Tarasavage said. “Not every place in the country has facilities of the caliber we have for the price we have.”
The economy may be recovering, but things are still tough for many businesses. The frugality seen in convention and meeting planning also is being seen in general regarding business travel.
“One of the main things we see right now is people are being very careful about what they spend,” said Curtiss Brown, president and manager of Avanti Travel, Jackson. “Of course, there has been a slowdown. They are being very careful about what they spend, and researching things. They are looking for the best fares and considering teleconferences instead of going to a destination.”
But Brown said the corporate travel portion of their business continues to do well even though traveling is more difficult right now.
“Travel is slow, and airlines aren’t as accommodating,” Brown said. “It has always been a little tough for the road warrior, and I think it is just a little tougher than it was. I think everyone has lightened up as far as luggage. The airlines could stand getting rid of some of the hand luggage on board, anyhow.”
Yolanda Davis, manager, Super Tours and Travel, Jackson, said more of her clients are staying over Saturday night to get better airline fares. She said she gives clients both options, coming back Saturday or Sunday, and lets them decide if they want to pay the extra money. She estimated that for a seven-day advance ticket from Jackson to Atlanta, it would be $980 for a round trip ticket coming back Friday or Saturday compared to $245 for a round trip ticket coming back Sunday.
“That makes a big difference,” she said. “If the hotel is $200, you are still saving over $400 by staying over.”
One post Sept. 11 problem she sees is that many airlines have reduced the number of flights. That makes it more difficult to schedule travel.
Although there are more hassles and problems, Davis said her customers are still flying — and still using a travel agent despite being charged a transaction fee now that airlines no longer pay a commission to travel agents. Davis initially lost some customers to Internet booking, but they came back after finding it difficult to make changes after booking a fare on the Internet.
“Corporate travelers often have to change their plans, so they still want to talk to a human who will understand what they need,” Davis said. “I find we did have some travelers that left to do it on their own on the Internet. But they came back. They got tired of hanging on the phone or the Internet trying to make arrangements. Their time was better spent elsewhere.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.