Unsurprisingly the principal theme of The 14th Business Travel Show held in London last week was to try and peer into the future both from an economic and environment standpoint. While the starting keynote centered on the role Boeing’s new (and delayed) 787 “Dreamliner” – there actually was a faux Dreamliner cabin at the entrance to the hall – will have on air travel particularly for the business the discussions quickly centered on the prognosis based on weakening demand that was already manifesting itself. Airline activity being very GDP dependent – generally air travel grows at about twice the rate of GDP – the over-arching message doing the rounds was slower growth if not contraction.
In terms of business traveler needs, the peeves that probably will transcend economic cycles were: slow security lines at airports, lounge access for non-business class frequent travelers (it is on average about $38 for pay usage), better (airport) gate signage, A surprising number did not feel the need to have wireless connections in flight a facility touted by Boeing for its new aircraft will. That finding was validated more formally in an Orbitz survey earlier this year. Most also reported being against the use of cellphones in flight but an interesting aside was the outcome of a survey conducted by Yahoo travel that showed (unsurprisingly) that 98% of business travelers have cell phones with 82% of them having blackberries (that was before yesterday’s near system-wide failure for RIM, the company that makes the Blackberry) . However, what was noted was that only a small fraction of the operating capacity of phones is used to promote easier business travel with the principal reason being the lack of cross operating systems for phones.
As in any travel show, hotel issues both in terms of buying and amenities come up. The overall sentiment was the 2009 may prove to be better from a buyers’ standpoint although that is not borne out yet based on numbers in gateway cities like New York and London. Hotels also seemed to fail to keep up with the dynamic needs of business travelers as many continue with room space taken by closets and drawers that are almost never used, desk tops that do not have pull out surfaces to enable placement of drinks and other non work related material whilst working, restaurants that feature “designer” lighting that does nothing for business meetings where documents are brought out for reading and, surprisingly, given the lack of its use, the ability to check in at a kiosk without going to the front desk.