Business travel trends for 2017 - part four

29 Dec 2016 by Jenny Southan
Hilton Digital Key

In the last in a four-part series we look at some of the key business travel trends for the year ahead. Part four: hyper-personalisation, buy-on-board and positive psychology…


A survey of 2,000 people in summer 2016 by global travel technology company Sabre found that many UK consumers are now content to share their personal information in return for more bespoke service, with 25 per cent agreeing to share their location with travel companies, and 33 per cent their travel history.

A new feature in the December 2016 update of Uber’s app means trace data from your journeys is collected and stored, which enables it to learn from your routines and predict where you will want to go next. Google launched its free Trips app in September 2016, which is designed to trawl your Gmail account for flight and hotel bookings, store your reservations and propose itineraries.

Lennert De Jong, chief commercial officer for Citizen M Hotels, said: “In the hotel industry, there is a real opportunity to use information from guests to create valuable and seamless experiences for them when they return. For example, you set your room to 18 degrees when you stay at Citizen M; why would we, on your next check-in, give you a room that is 24 degrees?” He added: “Travellers are likely to experience more of this seamless personalisation from their hotels within the near future.”

Skyscanner’s director of hotels Nik Gupta agrees: “[By 2024], advances in digital technology will mean that travellers will have no need to encounter a single human being from the time that they enter their chosen hotel to the time that they check out of their room. The fight back against peer-to-peer travel will see hotels empower their guests with incredible levels of hyper-personalisation through their mobile devices to provide the unique experiences they want.”

Skyscanner also predicts that hotel software will link with guests’ social media profiles so that when they book a particular room, everything is set specifically for them. Some hotels are already looking up VIP guests online and anticipating what they might appreciate when they get there.

For example, Elle magazine’s beauty editor recently arrived at the W St Petersburg to find they had discovered her love of cats, shoes and the tag line of her own range of scented candles “Knit one, Burn one”, and cut the slogan out of knit-print paper and laid it on her bed. She posted a picture of it on Instagram. Some people said “So sweet” and “Now that’s service”, while others commented, “Creepy” and “That’s insane!”

Luxury hotels such as Four Seasons now store information on whether you prefer staying on a high floor or low floor, whether you have any dietary preferences, what newspaper you read, whether you like red wine or white wine better, sweet or savoury. Like all top hotels, staff will go out of their way to remember your name, as well as relevant facts about who you are and why you are in town so they can converse with you.

A spokersperson for the Four Seasons Toronto says: “Personalising the guest stay is a key component to creating a memorable experience. When any guest is booking their room, they are asked a series a questions including the purpose of their visit. This helps us determine minor, yet very significant details about them so that we may create small gestures of customised recognition. For example, if we know a guest is on a business trip but has a very late arrival, then we make sure his or her room is prepared for bedtime right away, and we have an opportunity to leave a tea amenity to aid in sleep or even an energy bar for the next morning.”

The Hilton HHonors app can be used to check in, access your room with a “digital key” instead of the plastic one they give you in reception, and even select your room, just like choosing a seat on a plane (this is an industry first for Hilton). A recent partnership with Google Maps means you can now see which locations face which streets. You can also message the front desk, make restaurant reservations or request champagne on arrival.

Hilton says the digital key is compatible with about 700 hotels so far but will continued to be rolled out across all its hotels and brands. “As of December 2016, the digital key allows you to pin your favourite room so that the next time you stay at the hotel you will have a little love heart on the floor,” says Geraldine Calpin, chief marketing officer at Hilton. Your smartphone will also function as a remote control – when you approach your door, it automatically opens.

Calpin also highlights Hilton’s personalised “dynamic emails”. She says: “Every time you open one the count-down timer will be on, so that if you open an email from us today and then again tomorrow the content might be different. It’s live. The offers will always be accurate and current.”

Starwood unveiled SPG Keyless for smartphones in 2014 – the technology has now been adopted by Marriott (with which it merged in late 2016), and is being tested by IHG and Hyatt. Alyssa Waxenberg, vice-president of mobile at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, said: “SPG Keyless is literally opening doors for SPG members. It is also transformative for Starwood’s hotel associates, allowing them to better-engage with guests. Rather than the first interaction being the swipe of a credit card, hotel associates can now focus on ways to better-personalise guests’ stays.”

When it comes to airlines, every aspect of personalisation comes at a fee, at least for the “economy class VIP”. Sabre’s 2016 survey found that, on average, British consumers are willing to spend £61 on added extras such as preferred seating, enhanced meals and fast-track security. Although a third of respondents said they wouldn’t be prepared to pay anything on air travel extras, 33 per cent said they would pay up to £50, while 18 per cent said they would spend up to £100, and 15 per cent over £101. Premium passengers, of course, are used to crew knowing who they are, and for booking systems to remember their preferences. Big data will continue to play a huge part in this.

Dr James Canton from leading think tank the Institute for Global Futures, says: “The future of travel is really exciting, as we’ll see predictive travel analytics anticipating what consumers want from their experience before booking. The hotel booking itself will be helped along by artificial intelligence software agents, using data mining and intuitive computing. The new travel design science will help create highly personalised in-stay experiences.”


As we reported in our feature “Snack attack”, published in the Dec-Jan issue of Business Traveller, an increasing number of legacy airlines are starting to charge for onboard catering. Following the example of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet, many “full service” airlines have started unbundling fairs to generate profit through ancillary revenue by charging for the “freedom to choose” where you want to sit, how much luggage you want to take and whether you want extra legroom, for example.

US airlines have been offering buy-on-board menus on shorter flights for years – cookies, mini pretzels and soft drinks are free on American Airlines flights over 250 miles, but if you want something more substantial (or alcoholic) you have to pay for it. On United, flights over two hours allow for the purchase of snack boxes, while people on flights of more than 3.5 hours or longer can buy “hot scrambles” and salads from the Bistro on Board for about US$9.

In January 2017, British Airways is scrapping its short-haul meal service in favour of paid-for sandwiches, nuts and Percy Pig sweets (all under £5) from M&S on Euro Traveller and UK domestic flights in and out of London Heathrow (Gatwick and Stansted by this summer). A poll on showed that 55 per cent of readers felt not including food and drink in the ticket price was wrong but we can expect more airlines to take similar steps in the near future.


The business traveller is at greater risk than most of stress, fatigue, depression and burnout as they traverse the globe, often sacrificing relationships and their health. A 2016 survey of 4,555 frequent flyers in found that 93 per cent of them were wrung-out out by business travel. The top causes of anxiety were missing a flight, language barriers and the possibility of losing luggage. Over the last few years, mindfulness, meditation and digital detox have become buzz words among corporates trying to rebalance themselves.

In 2017, positive psychology will be a likely replacement. A relatively new sub-genre of academic study, it’s essentially the science of happiness. Why do the simple things in life make us happy? Why do relationships make us happier than a promotion or pay rise (as discovered by the London School of Economics in a survey published at the end of 2016)? Why do I feel empty when I am surrounded by luxury?

Gaining an understanding of our own mental health can help us make better life choices, and prioritise what is really important. Thinking positively can even improve your health and stave off illness – a study of 70,000 women in the American Journal of Epidemiology last year found that optimists were less likely to get fatal cancer, heart disease, lung conditions and stroke in retirement. Similar findings have been found for men.

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