business travel

Happy with all that business travel? Most say they are.

There’s no shortage of surveys out there slicing and dicing the habits and experiences of business travelers.

I read them all in search of trends, ideas and occasional surprising statistics and found examples of each in the new National Car Rental State of Business Travel Survey.

Happy Travelers?

In general, most business travelers surveyed (92 percent) said they were satisfied with their quality of life when traveling for business. Eighty-nine percent said they were also comfortable with amount of business travel they do.

That’s a good thing, because 90 percent of business travelers reported that they planned to travel at least the same amount or more in 2018.

What gets done on the road? 

I could identify with some of the survey stats about how much productive work, sleep and quality “me” time takes place during business trips. Perhaps you will, too.

According to the survey, just a smidge over half of business travelers (51 percent) reported that they were calmer when traveling for business compared to their everyday lives, but they also reported exercising less, sleeping less and eating less healthy when away from home on a business trip.

Most business travelers surveyed (57 percent) also claimed to work more hours and to be able to focus better (48 percent) when on the road.

What about down time during business trips?

Your co-workers, and family members at home, might think your business trip is – or should be – all business. But everyone needs some down time, and here the results of the survey were somewhat surprising.

While most (80 percent) of business travelers said they take time for fun/personal activities while on a business trip, 38 percent said telling their bosses about that down time was a “no go”; 40 percent said they avoided telling co-workers about any fun they had on a business trip and 31 percent advised against telling spouses or significant others about any non-work fun during a business trip.

Mixing business and fun

I’m confident folks at home, co-workers and even bosses wouldn’t begrudge business travelers a bit of time exploring a new city and I’m surprised at the “no go” and “don’t tell” statistics in the survey.

It’s possible to squeeze in some fun on a business trip – and here are a few ways to make that happen:

Commit

Become a tourist while traveling on business by adding an extra day to the front or back of your trip to explore a new city. Make sure you use that time wisely by buying a ticket to a play, museum exhibition or city tour before your business trip starts.

Dip into a neighborhood

If you don’t have official extra time in a city, try to take at least one meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant recommended by a local. Walk or drive to that meeting by taking the long (but safe) route around.

Don’t return that rental car too early 

If, like some respondents to State of Business Travel Survey claim, you can focus well on a business trip and you get your work done early, don’t head straight for the airport.

Use the extra hours on your car rental and the “Drop & Go” perk you get from being a member of loyalty programs such as National Car Rental’s Emerald Club to visit an attraction nearby the airport. For some ideas, see my previous post, “Heading to the airport? Hold onto that rental car.”

Have some tips balancing work and fun on a business trip? Please share those in the comments section below.

FYI:The National Car Rental State of Business Travel Survey was conducted from December 4-11, 2017, among 1,000 U.S. frequent business travelers in Research Now’s Business Travelers’ database.

While I was compensated by National Car Rental for this post, all thoughts and opinions shared here are totally my own.

 

Tips on dealing with the electronics ban on planes

 

 

Travelers are trying to figure out how to deal with new government rules placing an indefinite ban on electronic devices larger than smartphones from the cabins of commercial aircraft flying to both the United States and the United Kingdom from certain countries.

Canada is also considering joining the electronics ban for flights.

Here are some tips and things to consider if you’re booked on one of these flights, taken from my story on this topic for NBC News Travel.

 

In the United States, the ban covers nine airlines (Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabia Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates Air and Etihad Airways) and direct flights to the U.S. from 10 specific airports listed here.

In the United Kingdom, the ban covers inbound flights from six countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

“The ban means there is probably intelligence indicating a terrorist group or individual has been planning to detonate a device on board a commercial airplane, using an electronic to either hide an explosive, or as a triggering device for an explosive,” said aviation safety and security expert Jeff Price.

The ban also means that, for the foreseeable future, travelers booked on more than 125 affected flights a day to the US and UK will have to put devices such as tablets, e-readers, cameras, laptops, portable DVD players, portable printers and scanners and video games in checked baggage.

Travelers are concerned not only about how they will spend their time during flights, but the fate of the devices checked in airplane holds.

“Am I seriously going to check a $3-5K dollar camera? Not a chance,” said Washington, D.C. –based writer and photographer Emily Troutman, via Twitter.

As the bans begin to go into effect, experts are sharing advice and tips for those currently booked – or about to be booked – on the affected flights.

“Back up all your data and save it to the cloud, arrive at the airport early, bring your phone charger or buy one at the airport, and bring some good material,” suggests travel pro Johnny Jet in a web post and try switching to connecting instead of a direct flight from one of the affected airports. “If you’re booked on the Emirate non-stop from Dubai to the U.S., you can also see if they’ll move you to one of their one-stops through Milan or Athens,” he said.

Other travel experts suggest loading work files, books, games and other entertainment onto phones and purchasing or bringing along an external keyboard to make typing and accessing the information easier.

“Upgrading to a larger memory phone might be in order,” said Farecompare CEO Rick Seaney, whose research shows the ban will initially affect approximately 126 flights a day to the US and UK, with over 40,000 potentially inconvenienced fliers.

Families traveling with children, who have come to rely on movie and game-filled tablets for entertainment, should make sure to pack “some good old-fashioned unplugged entertainment, such as books, puzzle books, and coloring pads,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert at About.com.

And this may be a good time to explore the offerings on the affected airlines’ in-flight entertainment, some of which is quite extensive.

Not long after the ban was announced, Middle East carrier Emirates posted a “Who Needs Tablet and Laptops Anyway?” Tweet with a reminder that the airline offers “Over 2500 channels of the latest, movies, box sets, live sport and kids TV.”

While in-flight entertainment on a long flight is helpful, it won’t replace laptops for many travelers.

The ban “is simply unworkable for most business travelers. They need to be productive during their trips,” said the Business Travel Coalition in a statement, “Many business travelers do not check luggage, even on long flights as it slows them down upon arrival at baggage claim. Now they will have to check their electronics with many paying for the privilege.”

For those concerned about gear getting lost or stolen, insurance coverage from the airlines, travel insurance providers and certain credit cards may be helpful, “But the primary concern for most business travelers regarding the theft of electronic devices isn’t the value of the device itself, it’s the value/sensitivity of the data stored on the device,” said Max Leitschuh, iJET International Airline Safety Analyst.

Another option? Not checking electronic devices at all. “My recommendation is to ship your electronics to your destination,” said aviation security and safety expert Jeff Price, “There’s no way I’d put my laptop in checked baggage. And those little locks they sell can be defeated in about 15 seconds with a good paperclip.”

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On the road: RV sales picking up

Heading out on a road trip this summer?

You might stay entertained on the highway playing Punch Buggy, a game in which passengers slug each other in the shoulder whenever a Volkswagen Beetle goes by.

But to learn something about trends in the economy while out on the highway, watch for a different type of vehicle.

“I’m starting to see a lot more RV products on the road. And it’s not just because it’s summer,” said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based Thompson Research Group.

“An RV is as discretionary a purchase as you can think of,” she said. “So if someone is buying an RV, something must be working.”

Eiswerth_trailer

Photo courtesy Rich Eiswerth

According to Thompson, sales of recreational vehicles in the United States hit a low point during the recession, bottoming out in the spring of 2009 with the bankruptcy of two large motor home manufacturers—Fleetwood Enterprises and Monaco Coach.

Yet these days, RV sales have improved along with the economy. Lower priced towables and trailers, with price tags that can start at around $10,000, led the recovery. Sales of the more expensive motorized RVs, including motor homes that can have price tags well over $500,000, caught up later.

“In North America sales were was running over 300,000 units a year until 2008,” said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “In 2009, sales dropped to 206,000 units. By 2013, they went back to 303,000 units. So in four years it came back 47 percent from the bottom, which is very impressive as an economic indicator,” Walworth said.

During that time, sales of towable RVs (including folding trailers, truck campers and travel trailers) rose 46.4 percent, while sales of the more expensive motorized motorhomes (categorized as Class A, B or C) gained 51 percent from the 2009 low.

This year, shipments of new RVs to dealers will total 349,400 units, an 8.8 percent over 2013, said RV analyst Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan. In 2015, he expects shipments to rise another 3.1 percent.

Who’s buying all these RVs?

“Boomers are the largest demographic of RV owners,” said Mac Bryan, vice president of administration at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “But those age 35-54, the younger consumers who want to be active and outdoors, are the fastest-growing demographic.”

And when friends and family members go along on RV trips, or just hear about them, “that introduces even more people to the RV lifestyle,” Bryan said.

“We have an increasing number of friends and acquaintances ‘of a certain age’ who have chosen the RV lifestyle full or part-time,” said Richard Eiswerth, president and general manager of a Cincinnati public radio station who is in his early 60s. “If and when I retire, who knows?”

Longtime tent campers, Eiswerth and his wife, Susan, last May dipped their toes in the RV ownership market with a small, retro-style, teardrop trailer they bought in Wisconsin before heading west for a trip to Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

The couple has large dogs, so they also bought an attachable add-on tent to cover the crates the dogs sleep in at night.

“We didn’t want to simply have another, more expensive, version of home on wheels with all the frills and luxuries of our actual home. We wanted to be able to travel to and camp in a variety of locales, not just asphalt RV compounds,” Eiswerth said.

He lists the advantages of the small camper as better gas mileage than a larger RV, ease of maneuverability, speed and convenience of set-up and tear-down and heat and air conditioning, when necessary.

And best of all, he said, “Much like a tent, this has a connection to the outdoors.”

(My story on recreational vehicles sales increasing first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).

 

 

Airlines woo travelers with swanky airport lounges

Airlines looking to woo profitable premium-class passengers have been creating an ever-better luxury experience in the sky — and now also on the ground.

My story on airport lounges first appeared on NBC News Travel, in a slightly different form.

2_United Airlines club at Heathrow T2_Harriet Baskas

The United Airlines club lounge at Heathrow T2.

Over the past year and a half, more than a dozen airlines have opened, upgraded or revamped their lounges. The list includes new lounges for the major alliances (Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam) in the new international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, 22,000 square-feet of lounge space for United Airlines’ premium passengers at Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 2, and a 5,000-square-foot Lufthansa lounge at Newark International Airport.

“Airlines have been improving their business class in terms of seats and service and, as part of these upgrade programs, also investing in their lounges in order to offer their most valuable passengers a premium end-to-end experience,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com.

At many of these lounges, the focus is on amenities. Perks at Lufthansa’s first-class terminal in Frankfurt, Germany, for example, include a cigar lounge, personal assistants, day beds and a bathroom soaking tub that comes with champagne — and a rubber ducky.

“In my opinion, it’s the world’s greatest lounge,” said Houston-based software support specialist Joshua MacDonald, who’s willing to cash in extra frequent-flier miles to gain access.

In 2013, Delta Air Lines opened new lounges with outdoor decks at New York’s JFK airport and at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At Hong Kong International Airport, Cathay Pacific opened its sixth lounge — The Bridge, which offers shower suites and freshly baked bread and pizzas.

Image: Delta Air Lines lounge with outdoor deck in Terminal 4 at New York's JFK airport. Courtesy Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines lounge with outdoor deck in Terminal 4 at New York’s JFK airport.

The level of luxury in a lounge also influences Lelde Muehlenbach’s choice of carriers and seat class. The painter and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, is a frequent domestic and international traveler who has been to Istanbul eight times.

“I would purchase a business ticket just to insure access to the Turkish Airlines lounge at the Istanbul airport,” she said.

At 60,000 square feet, the airline’s flagship lounge was updated and expanded earlier this year and is one of the largest in the world. The lounge includes a library, billiard hall and golf simulator. Travelers can also find massages, made-to-order meals, a cinema and a kids’ play room.

Airport improvements are among several factors fueling the one-upmanship in airline lounges, experts say, because wine bars, massage kiosks, white-tablecloth restaurants, powered work spaces, free Wi-Fi and museum-quality art are no longer uncommon airport amenities.

“That means if you have a lounge, it better be better than the airport terminal itself,” said Tyler Dikman, CEO of LoungeBuddy.com, an app that lists and reviews airport lounges. “The bar has been raised for these lounges to deliver a premium experience.”

During the recent global financial crisis, fewer passengers were traveling for business. But with the improvement in the economy, spending on business travel, especially international travel, is on the rise. The Global Business Travel Association predicted U.S. spending on international outbound travel would jump 12.5 percent in 2014 to $36.7 billion, after just 1.8 percent growth in 2013 and what it called an “anemic” 0.8 percent expansion in 2012.

“Intense competition for the global business traveler has upped the ante,” said Chris McGinnis, editor of the TravelSkills blog.

“Given what elite travelers pay for tickets now, good lounges — and constantly improving lounges — are the cost of entry if you want to keep their business,” said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of business travel website JoeSentMe.com.

Another factor is competition from shared-use airline lounges, where access is offered to those willing to pay a per-use fee — from $20 to $50, and sometimes more — or to those with certain membership or credit cards.

Common in many international airports, “the concept entered the U.S. market in recent years and has been widely accepted by passengers and airports as an excellent complement to the traditional airline lounge product,” said Nancy Knipp, senior vice president of Airport Lounge Development, which operates “The Club” lounges at five U.S. airports. A sister company, Priority Pass, provides access for card holders to lounges in 400 cities worldwide.

Some other shared-use lounges travelers may spot in airports are operated by Swissport-owned Servisair and Airspace Lounge, by Plaza Premium Lounge and by American Express, which operates Centurion lounges in the Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth airports.

Price and access criteria for both airline and independent lounges can vary widely, but overall “competition is good,” said Brancatelli, “and that mean the lounges will get better.”

Women-only floor at Danish airport hotel ruled illegal

Bella Sky Hotel - copenhagen

A ruling by a Danish court has put an end to the women-only floor at the Bella Sky Hotel, located near the Copenhagen Airport.

The rooms will stay, but now men will be allowed to reserve a spot on the hotel’s secure-access Bella Donna floor, where rooms cost about $28 extra and include amenities such as large towels, international women’s magazines, upgraded beauty products and a minibar that the hotel website boasts is stocked “with smoothies and champagne instead of potato chips and beer.”

“We had no idea this product could be remotely illegal,” said Allan Agerholm, CEO of the company that owns Bella Sky Hotel. “It is a business product we created to differentiate our hotel from others. This is a petty case that should have never been brought. It detracts from real discrimination issues happening in our society.”

Last Friday, a court ruled that even though the hotel had two ladies-style rooms elsewhere in the hotel bookable by men, the women’s-only floor was indeed discriminatory.

The hotel has opted to keep the Bella Dona floor intact, but open it to men and women.

“If for some reason a male guest should find it interesting to stay there in the pink environment, they are welcome to do so,” said Agerholm.

When the 812-room, two-tower hotel opened in spring 2011, the 20 upgraded rooms on the secure-access “Bella Donna” floor were set aside for women only, with feminine touches and amenities ranging from large dressing mirrors to a minibar stocked with smoothies, wine and high quality chocolate.

Bella Sky Hotel - Bella Donna Room

But shortly after the hotel opened, two men complained about the women-only floor to the Danish Board of Equal Treatment, which ruled the floor was gender discriminatory and illegal. Because the board had no authority to sanction, Bella Sky kept the Bella Donna floor women-only and appealed to the Eastern High Court in Copenhagen.

While not very common, some hotels in the United States and elsewhere continue to offer women-only floors, including the Hamilton Crowne Plaza in Washington, D.C., and the Crowne Plaza in Bloomington, Minn.

“Our ladies floor, where we charge a $20 premium, is usually 85 percent occupied or sold out Monday through Thursday and is very popular with female corporate travelers,” said Charlie LaMont, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Bloomington. “Some like the amenities, but for most, it’s the security of the secure-access floor,” he said.

The 10 rooms on the 10th floor of the 127-room Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta are set aside for women. In addition to private-access entry, the rooms include upgraded amenities, slippers and use of curling iron and a flat iron.

The hotel charges an added fee of $20 for the rooms, “which are most popular with the female corporate traveler,” said Tom LaVaccare, director of sales and marketing. “It’s a privacy issue, not necessarily a security issue,” he said, “but we’re working on adding more amenities.”

LaVacarre said no male customer has ever complained about being excluded but “if they wanted to be on a floor just for men, we could accommodate that.”

For several years, the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, has offered 18 Orchid Rooms on a “women-preferred” floor with amenities such as curling irons, flat irons, high-powered hair driers, upgraded Aveda products, satin-padded hangers, nylons and other items at no extra charge.

The rooms were so popular that the hotel recently added a second floor of rooms with the same amenities, and men aren’t excluded from those floors, they rarely book there, General Manager Lisa Jackson said.

( My story about hotels with women-only floors first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior in a slightly different version.)