A recent report by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) suggests that business travel is set to increase 8.6% in 2015, continuing its slow journey toward recovery as more economies emerge from the global recession. However, the expectations of business travelers (and the facilities and services they require) are also evolving at a rapid pace, in line with other changes in technology and society. Here are a few of the key trends expected to influence business travelers in 2015:
Growing influence of millennials
A recent Expedia travel survey reported that tech-savvy millennials (that generation born between 1980 and 2000, currently in their twenties and early thirties) are already travelling for work more frequently than older colleagues, and consequently are exerting an ever-greater influence on the business travel industry.
Compared to more mature generations, millennials tend to have higher expectations when it comes to their travel experience, with a greater interest in perks and services such as free WiFi and loyalty schemes. They're more likely to do extensive online research while planning a trip, but also more likely to book at the last minute. In part, it's their tastes that are driving the demand for value-chic hotels – stylish yet affordable accommodation with all the latest technological features. Indeed, the millennial generation's tech addiction is also a significant factor in the next two key trends for business travel in 2015…
Mobile and wearable technology
With a lot of hype around devices such as Google Glass and the Sony SmartWatch and the Apple Watch expected early in 2015 – wearable tech is expected to surge in popularity by 2016 and become a vital part of the business travel experience. Several airlines have announced that passengers will be able to download boarding passes onto their wearable tech, whereas in some hotels smartwatches can be equipped with a room key function to save guests from having to fiddle with a separate key card. What's more, operators are starting to develop apps for the devices that allow them to send real-time notifications, updates, offers, directions and more directly to travelers – allowing for a much quicker and more immediate degree of customer service. Taken all together, these functions mean that your travel documents, info and help are always (literally) at hand – a valuable convenience and time saver for business travelers.
DIY travel options
More and more travelers – especially business travelers, who value speed and convenience – are using their mobiles to check reviews, organize trips and make bookings, as well as to perform a variety of other travel-specific tasks that would once have required the assistance of a human being.
From checking in for a flight and downloading boarding passes, to printing luggage tags and checking flight status, self-service options have become a well-established part of air travel, but hotels are now joining the DIY revolution by offering a range of speedy services. For instance, some hotels now offer mobile check-in and check-out, whereas others take room service orders through an app or even provide a "grab-and-go" food service for guests short on time.
As travelers become more and more accustomed to accomplishing a variety of tasks with a swipe of their smartphone, we can expect an increasing variety of self-service travel options. However, there may still be an argument for speaking to a travel professional – as Peter Browne of CTI Corporate Travel International explains, "Travel bookers want to be sure that they are paying the best prices for flights and hotels and, with booking channels increasing, this can be difficult. In some circumstances booking online can actually cost more than booking offline. A good travel management company will be able to identify these savings, but online-only suppliers will not."
Rise of the sharing economy
Another emerging travel trend embraced by millennials in particular are the options provided by the "sharing economy" – another legacy of the cash-strapped recession period. With more and more business travelers taking a DIY approach to travel, it’s not surprising that many are investigating the money-saving possibilities associated with peer-to-peer services, previously the domain of backpackers on a budget.
As Business Travel Show director David Chapple points out, "Companies like Airbnb and Uber will continue to gain traction among business travelers – and continue to cause disruption as they fall under increased pressure to tighten the way they operate." Some new travel search and comparison sites are even starting to include shared-economy options in their results – which means these new transport and accommodation options could put an even bigger dent in the traditional market.
The evolution of conference facilities
A final 2015 trend deals with business travelers' expectations in terms of hotel meeting and conference venues. “Gen Y and Gen Xers have different working habits than previous generations. Yet, few meeting venues cater to the needs that come with changing habits," explains Manchester Airport Marriott Hotel’s GM Hayley Chilver.
To address these changing needs, the hotel will soon feature flexible work spaces that adapt to the needs of delegates, with technology that facilitates the web-based, multimedia approach favored for modern business presentations and conferences. Social and collaborative meetings are now the norm, so hotels need to focus on video conferencing and audio-visual equipment, as well as break-out space where delegates can decompress, chat informally and center their minds over the course of the work day.
Increasingly, conference organizers will seek out venues that allow for this measure of informality, while at the same time provide the added extras – from quality snacks and beverages, to complimentary use of leisure facilities – that suit Millennials' taste for good-value luxury.
Touches like these – which focus on both productivity and well-being – will increasingly be sought out by business travelers and conference organizers in 2015 and beyond.