Business travel – A sign of the times

Not so long ago, serviced apartment providers were concentrating their efforts on wooing corporate clients needing accommodation for international assignees, but such is the drive toward cost control and compliance that business travel is very much back on providers’ radar, as Fiona Murchie reports.

Roman House by Skyline

Skyline, Roman House, London

Many large organisations have a department that deals exclusively with business travellers, supporting both their national and their international travel needs. Those multinationals large enough to support an HR global mobility professional, or even a mobility department, will be responsible for accommodation relating to international assignments, both short and long stay.More typically, HR professionals will be responsible for global mobility as part of their role, whether in a compensation and benefits department or a more generalist role. They all appreciate the complexity of international assignments and the potential compliance risks across tax, immigration and social security. Add duty-of-care concerns in an uncertain world of political unrest, security threats, and the potential for natural disasters and health epidemics. It is a complex business, keeping employees safe in the global mobility context. Many of these issues apply equally to international assignments and business travel.

Accommodation trends in business travel

Serviced apartments are now firmly on the agenda for business travellers. "For business travellers, location appears to remain the key deciding factor in choosing any accommodation – hotel or apartment," says Steve Thorne, managing director of Flying Butler. "A business traveller will not want a difficult or lengthy commute if they are only in town for a few days."Says Doug Greenwood, of Cheval Residences, "We have been very fortunate to be able to benefit from our positioning as a short-term, transient business accommodation provider for guests needing the classic Tuesday and Wednesday-night corporate stay, as well as being able to offer the classic extended-stay business model catering for the needs of the relocation agent and corporate mobility manager."For the short-stay corporate guest, we are providing easy booking access and terms, as well as free high-speed wi-fi and a light breakfast within the rate. Other initiatives include the option for guests to enjoy daily maid service, in-house spa treatments, and high-quality home-delivered takeaways from some of London's top restaurants."Steve Thorne is clear about priorities for global business travellers. "For the more savvy traveller who has discovered serviced apartments and their benefits, location will still be key, but how they want to use their additional space and facilities will also play a part. Aparthotels with limited kitchen facilities may win for some, but we find that our business traveller guests are wanting a full kitchen with a washing machine, a big fridge for their favourite foods, and more space to work and relax. This puts the size and amenities of a serviced apartment high on the list once the location is nailed."The Business Travel Insights 2015 survey from BridgeStreet Global Hospitality reveals that 75 per cent of respondents prefer serviced apartments for business travel lasting longer than a week. With regard to travel policy, serviced apartments are recommended in 75 per cent of companies for stays shorter than two weeks, and in 44 per cent even for very short stays of from one to four nights.Choice of property was dictated by location for 76 per cent of users. Comfort was overwhelmingly the reason for choosing a serviced apartment. Interestingly, 47 per cent of organisations allowed employees to arrange their own business travel accommodation. A real sign of the times is the shift towards employees being allowed to use online booking agents such as Expedia.The BridgeStreet survey also looks at the habits of the business traveller, which are starting to mirror consumer choice via peer-to-peer recommendations enabled by mobile devices. Searching for restaurants, taxis and so on provides further evidence of the blurring between business and personal preference. There is continual erosion of the boundaries between work time and leisure time – the day job and social life.For the convenience of users, and to save the company time and expense, these trends are, perhaps, unsurprising. For compliance-aware corporates, however, there is the danger that the company is not totally joined up in its thinking. Under-the-radar business travel is a nightmare for companies trying to track the movement of their employees. It is not surprising that Big 4 organisations like Deloitte and PwC are investing in developing ever-more-sophisticated systems that can alert the unwary business traveller or international assignee before they make a move that has tax, social security or immigration implications.It is, perhaps, even more telling that these trends are gaining momentum, as the BridgeStreet Survey is dominated by the more senior age ranges, with 31 per cent aged 45–54 and 17 per cent aged 55–64. So these are pervasive trends, not restricted to the younger demographics. Another telling statistic is the last-minute arrangements which self-service by employees and the use of mobile devices allow. This greater flexibility accounts for the 59 per cent of business travellers who plan accommodation only two weeks in advance."The business travel trends within the context of relocation have not holistically changed; however, the consumer is now very clear about the hospitality experience he or she wants and expects," says Skyline Worldwide's Samantha Thorne."Employers, relocation teams and global managers are increasingly recognising the clear advantages that serviced apartments offer over hotels – all the attractive elements of a hotel, but for less cost. On average, nightly rates for corporate accommodation are around 25 to 30 per cent less than hotel rooms of equivalent standard."Lead times have seen a fundamental change; they have become much shorter, which we believe is down to a general move towards business being more dynamic, and travel being easier; however, visa approval continues to hinder the ease of access into the UK for the business traveller."BridgeStreet draws the conclusion that it is even more important to influence the user experience at every stage, from ease of booking to customer experience, and to ensure that each stay is memorable. This is backed up by the high loyalty factor for consistent experience and convenient locations. Get these right and the brand is on to a winner. It is not, therefore, surprising that an operator like BridgeStreet offers six brands within its range.

Accommodating younger assignees

A study by SACO The Serviced Apartment Company, Tomorrow's Traveller: Millennials and the Future of Business Travel, spells out the trends for younger business users.As Ben Harper, SACO's sales director, highlights in the foreword to the report, "One of the paradoxes of modernisation is that it has never been easier to connect with someone virtually, yet travel – particularly for business – is at an all-time high. The Global Business Travel Association predicts that business travel will expand by 6.6 per cent in 2015, underlining the value placed on face-to-face contact by companies."We know that companies across the relocation and global mobility sphere are encouraging Generation Y (born after 1980 and also referred to as Millennials) to take up opportunities for international experience as part of their career development. This is increasingly a two-way trade-off, where the employee satisfies a thirst for international experience and the company develops future global players without high-cost expatriate packages.This approach is filtering through all levels of seniority in times of cost control. However, such is the need to attract and retain top talent at all levels that the relationship between HR global mobility and talent management is strengthening. In the bid for increased international markets, including setting up in new dominions, global mobility is coming increasingly under the spotlight across its full remit, from long-term assignments through to business travel, which is often essential for setting up new projects and business ventures.Generation Y employees may not be the decision-makers in such instances but, as the SACO study points out, the Millennials also represent the future of business travel, and they are business-critical to companies preparing for an increasingly mobile future. The research, commissioned through YouGov to explore business travel through the eyes of millennial travellers, does indeed provide food for thought across the serviced apartment sector, HR global mobility decision-makers and the relocation professionals who are often so critical in determining accommodation bookings for those on relocation moves.Pre-assignment visits are often a thing of the past, unless they can be tacked on to a business trip that results in a later short-term or longer-term assignment. Now, all relocation professionals, for both business and compliance needs, must keep business trips under their radar.Generation Y individuals are constantly on the move in their social life, never wanting to miss an opportunity, and this is reflected in their working lives. They want their careers to provide opportunities for travel.

Key findings

  • Millennials are 50 per cent more likely to have travelled for business in the past two years than people aged over 35
  • Only a third of Millennials worry about whether the accommodation they book is within their company's travel budget, compared with 44 per cent of people aged 36–54
  • Millennials want comfort and connectivity: a comfortable bed, great food, and high-speed broadband connection
  • Millennials are more than twice as likely as their older peers to see travelling as an important networking opportunity
  • Millennials are twice as likely as older travellers to associate serviced apartments with being sociable (11 per cent, compared with 5 per cent for people aged 35 and above). However, an important trend is older business travellers wanting to interact with new people whilst travelling for business.
The survey also reveals that Millennials are the most excited of all age groups about how technology is changing the face of hospitality. Key developments include:
  • Better and faster access to technology in rooms
  • Keyless room access using barcode technology
  • Digital concierges and guest portals
  • A wider choice of ways to book online
By 2020, the survey points out, Millennials will represent more than half the workforce; however, their behaviours are likely to change as they get older. "One of the challenges," it says, "is distinguishing the game-changing trends from passing fads, and the nice-to-haves from the essentials."Skyline's Samantha Thorne says, "Millennial travellers are far more independent, and far more predisposed to their surroundings and the local amenities on offer. In view of this, they generally no longer require the in-depth assistance associated with a traditional front desk or concierge. These travellers are mobile, they look, digest, interpret and make decisions based on their own due diligence, sourcing the web for best value and level of quality, at rates they wish to pay.For more Re:locate news and features about serviced apartments, click here

Related Articles