While virtual meetings got us through the last couple of years, nothing can replace the value of in-person meetings and events for building strong professional relationships. Business travel demand continues to increase according to a recent report by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) forecasting that global business travel spending will reach two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
While this trend bodes well for hotels, addressing the needs of this particular segment of guests is vitally important to repeat business and increasing loyalty. Business travelers categorically spend more than leisure travelers. In a recent study, American Express quantified that business travelers pay 63% more for airfare and generally choose their hotel based on location and not the lowest price compared to leisure travelers.
Business travelers are sympathetic to the plight of hotels struggling with the effects of the global pandemic – but only to a point. Guests who are getting back on the road again also need hotels to be prepared for them, even if their services have been reduced or adapted. Now is a good time for hotels to determine how to update and bring back services in new ways, even if it means doing more with less.
Let’s take a look at five critical areas with the biggest impact to welcome back corporate travelers.
1. Address First Impressions
It takes seven seconds to form a first impression, and unfortunately 95% of customers will share when they’ve had a negative experience. Hotels need to get this right. Business travelers are rebuilding impressions in this new environment. A simple tip: augment the front desk experience by going digital. It not only alleviates stretched staff, but helps improve efficiency for guests and offers potential health and safety benefits as well. What’s working right now?
- Digital Keys: Allow your guests to turn their smartphones into their room keys and eliminate common problems like lost or faulty keys. Early this year, Marriott launched a new Bonvoy Rewards app equipping guests at over 4,000 properties with mobile keys.
- Digital Kiosks: This technology is already familiar to the everyday consumer. Think airline check-ins and grocery store checkouts. Hotels can add this solution to limit wait times and offload staff. BWH Hotel group started piloting automated kiosks to support front desk efficiency in some of their hotels.
- Digital Concierge: Voice assistants eliminate thousands of calls per month to the front desk by enabling guests to order additional service items like towels, answer common questions about the hotel, and even allow guests to check out before leaving the room - all in a contactless manner. Voice assistants provide a high level of service and fulfill requests while offering a safe and on-brand experience for guests.
- Mobile apps: Guests are bringing their own devices, why not put them to use? A mobile app allows them to easily check in and bypass the front desk. This limits the wait and creates added benefits for loyalty members who can access this perk via the loyalty program app. They can also access room upgrades, request service items and book spa appointments without having to talk to an associate.
2. Do Less, But Better
Scaled-back services are to be expected, but that doesn’t mean guests need to have scaled-back satisfaction. Hotels can work with a “less is more” approach to make the most of available resources.
Allow guests to opt in or out of housekeeping services when available. Pare down menus to offer just a few really great, seasonal options to save on time and costs. A little bit can go a long way, so continue to implement visual cues of cleaning practices, i.e. a plastic wrapped remote or sealed entry door.
3. Make A Great Work Space
Business travelers expect fast, stable Wi-Fi when they travel, just like they have at home. They still need to take video conference calls, want to stream their own content and need that 24/7 connectivity when traveling. We’ve all had this happen: You get back from a long day of meetings and other guests throughout the hotel have sucked up all the bandwidth, making the internet unusable. That means no email, no social media and definitely no video calls with colleagues or loved ones. Have the right infrastructure in place to ensure this scenario doesn't happen to your loyal business traveling guests.
Offering simple features like secure Wi-Fi printing, device docking and charging stations, and wireless projectors can step up your hotel business center or coworking space. Supporting business travelers makes the most of their time “at work” so they can enjoy some leisure time too.
4. Level-up Loyalty
A recent survey reports that almost 90% of loyalty members reported being equally or more loyal to their favorite brands since the pandemic began. Don’t let those loyal guests slip away - now is the time for hotels to refresh their rewards programs, upgrade offerings and address complaints.
One effective upgrade is offering “Rollover nights.” Give guests a head start if they stay a few nights over the minimum for their earned loyalty level. This incentive works great for loyalty members who may have different travel needs year-to-year, one that IHG and Hilton Honors have already implemented.
5. Communication is Key
Nothing is more frustrating than booking a hotel expecting to use the gym before work meetings or scheduling a lunch or dinner in the hotel restaurant, to find that the gym or restaurant is actually closed. The best way for hotels to welcome back wary business travelers? Communicate. Up-to-date websites and listings, welcome emails and texts will prepare guests for what to expect and ensure that those expectations are met. Even a scaled-down approach can be the next step for building better loyalty programs, better guest experiences and better returns.
As I get back on the road for HT-NEXT in December, it will be great to discuss with customers, partners and industry peers how we can support the return to travel. But as a business traveler, I also have certain expectations and hope that my hotels are prepared for this return.