Tuesday 26 March 2019

The shape of things to come: more choice - and more cost

Globally, this year and beyond could see the blurring of the lines between disruptors and hotels
Globally, this year and beyond could see the blurring of the lines between disruptors and hotels

Business travel: Mark Evans

So how will 2019 and beyond shape up for the corporate traveller? The recent launch of the Skift Megatrends report offered a few insights, a few humdrum, but some pointing to where the sector - and business people on the road - are going.

What's interesting, according to the data giant, is that consumers want to be in control, not dictated to by travel managers about where they stay and how they travel there.

The buzz phrase is "creation is the new consumption", and the trend is already in evidence with the recent rise of the millennial-driven bleisure phenomenon, where business travellers add a day or two or experiences - or what people my age would call sightseeing - in their destination city.

And, particularly across the Atlantic, that blurring of the lines is already taking place.

In the past, disruptors such as Airbnb offered home stays, with vast ranges in the quality offered by hosts. Now the lettings giant isn't content to be a glorified guest house hub, with rumours of intentions to branch into transportation too.

The hiring of a former airline executive seems to point in this direction of innovating rather than stagnating. Surprisingly, Patrick Whyte, Skift's Europe editor, revealed that "Airbnb already has 24,000 hotels on its platform in a sign of convergence".

And it isn't one-way traffic, with hotel giants muscling in on Airbnb's territory. Marriott, with 177,000 employees and properties in more than 6,500 locations worldwide, "is getting into homes", said Whyte. Meanwhile, Accor, which owns brands in all price ranges such as Swissotel, Sofitel and Ibis, has 10,000 home properties on its listings, and owns seven non hotel-related companies.

And so back to co-creation, with the traveller in control. Already Hilton is offering loyalty members the choice of room they want. And, as always in the corporate market, there's an upselling element, with choice coming at a price.

Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott are working on what's known as "attribute-based" booking, as explained by Joe Youssef, executive VP for corporate development at travel bookings processing giant Amadeus: "The concept of one size fits all room types is eliminated. Consumers instead select desired attributes that add an incremental price to the base room rate."

So if you want that king bed instead of double, sea view instead of car park vista, or a room away from traffic noise, it's yours - but it'll cost you.

Airlines are mastering squeezing more cash out of us, whether it's for seat selection or added value such as car hire in the same booking.

Skift cites the rise of chatbots at Finnair which, using artificial intelligence, get into the customer's head, albeit not literally. If for instance a passenger asks for information about getting from its Helsinki hub to the city centre, the chatbot can offer transport products. In hospitality, one major hotel reported that guests spend up to 30pc more with it after interacting with its chabot.

Another innovation being used by airlines is flight confirmation emails with the option to add your details to their phone or computer calendars.

"Expect airlines in 2019 to start testing the calendar as a communications channels where they can remind travellers to book airport parking or activities at their destination," reckons Bruce Buchanan, CEO of marketing tech firm Rokt.

And tech is in evidence with the belief that the likes of TripAdvisor - used by many of us to check out attractions or restaurants in our destination - will be superceded by Google Maps, which can rate nearby eateries based on your location and even use live view to tell you if an establishment is too quiet if you want atmosphere, or full to the brim with diners and worth avoiding.

It's interesting that the tech backlash has been predicted for the past two years, and despite European antipathy at times to disruptors, it appears there's life left in the digital revolution.


While Leo and Shane were turning sods for Dublin's new North Runway, the atmosphere wasn't so convivial in the Midwest.

Limerick Chamber is grumbling that with the B word approaching fast, Shannon Airport is disadvantaged on two fronts - the dominance of Dublin and the advantage that regional airports such as Knock and Kerry can avail of grants while Shannon can't as it's deemed a 'state airport'.

That's according to Chamber economist Dr Catriona Cahill, who said Dublin has an unhealthy dominance, attracting 96pc of all new passengers coming into Ireland.

University of Limerick economist Dr Stephen Kinsella argued that the Co Clare airport has a special case for funding: "Brexit, in addition to being an existential threat to the Midwest in agri-food production and obviously manufacturing, is also a big threat to our regional airport, Shannon, because it has its major hub into Heathrow.

"This might be to our disadvantage. In that case we'll need to see a package of supports for Shannon and that package of support will have to be comprehensive."

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