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by • 12 December, 2008 • TRAVEL / HOSPITALITYComments (0)1171

Embracing Virtual Business Travel: Tips for the Hotelier

A recent poll by Ipsos has led to perilous 2009 predictions for the travel industry in light of the economic climate.

Certainly travel, like any other industry, has few reasons to celebrate this recession, but the doomsday interpretations of the Ipsos data are somewhat off-kilter: its not only the crummy economy, but also increased use of technology that is shrinking the volume of business travel bookings for late 2008, and 2009.

13% of American business travelers plan to cancel travel, replacing face-to-face meetings with conference calls and/or webinars. The remaining business travelers in the US either expect to continue with their business trips as planned (47%), or plan to take their scheduled business trips but are doing so with caveats from their employers to be mindful of travel expenses (16%). Overall, 53% of American business travelers that planned to travel through the remainder of 2008 say their travel plans have been affected by the bad economy – note: affected (reconsidered, second-guessed, or scrutinized maybe, but not cancelled)…

When asked how their travel plans have been affected by the worsening economy:

  • 8% of US business travelers have canceled a business trip they were planning to make by year-end.
  • 6% are considering canceling a business trip planned for 2008.
  • 10% have postponed a scheduled business trip until after January 1, 2009.

Predictions are surely bleaker for 2009: 38% of US business travellers will travel the same amount, 22% will travel more, and 40% will travel less in 2009.

While compensating for the poor economy can be tricky (stay tuned in January for Criterion Global’s analysis of 2 top recession marketing strategies), the trend toward using technology to replace business travel can be nipped in the bud with strong advertising and media strategies. No, really. How you ask?

As any business person knows, there is no replacement for face-to-face communication, particularly in  times when relationships (and sales) really matter. Use innovative communications and PR strategies to back this up with data, and publicize the importance of face-to-face connections via efficient business media placements, preferably online, direct email, and perhaps TV/radio.

Strategically, hotels specifically can embrace consumer trends toward technology, as they did in the early days of email by providing broadband and now WiFi connections to ease email access for business travelers. Incorporating on-site video conferencing capabilities in hotels is a worthwhile investment to enhance a) local or meetings-oriented business, and b) provide business travelers their home-away-from home while visiting clients, complete with video-conferencing to centres to keep in touch with the home office. (Imagine the tag-line: Other hotel chains give you one location. Stay with us, and we give you the world…).

Hotels could capitalize on consumer’s embrace of virtual-travel simply by equipping business centre computers with webcam-affixed screens. Imagine that! The subtle importance of this move is that it curtails the argument that conferencing replaces face-to-face travel. Inevitably, to the modern business traveller, conferencing is necessary no matter what, and no matter where one is (at the home office or away). But, as an intelligent marketing and media strategy can best convey, conferencing – in any shape or form – is no replacement for a handshake. Conferencing technologies, like email, enable and enhance distance communications. They do not replace in-person communication, arguably more important than ever for the business traveller, most of whom perform a sales or business development function within their organizations.

Hotels small and large can use intelligent marketing to make technology work in their favor, and re-emphazise the necessity of travel for the modern business person – in good times and bad.

About the survey: The Ipsos poll was conducted from November 3-10, 2008. This online survey of 1,055 US adults (age 18+) was conducted via Ipsos’ online panel.

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