20 business travel trends for 2017

Connie

From charitable airlines to chat bots, Jenny Southan reveals what’s in store for 2017.

1) DIGITAL WALLETS

In 2015, Worldpay predicted that credit and debit card payments would drop from two-thirds of all transactions to half by 2019. Taking their place are mobile transactions. Mobile wallets from Apple Pay and Google Android Pay entered the market in 2014 and 2015 respectively, while JP Morgan Chase unveiled Chase Pay in November 2016, and 2017 will see the UK launch of Samsung Pay. With a digital wallet you can pay for your lunch or Tube fare simply by touching your phone or smartwatch on an NFC sensor, as well as store boarding passes and loyalty cards.

Apple Pay receives a million new users a week and, by July 2016, it accounted for three-quarters of contactless payments in the US. Jet Blue and Emirates were the first airlines to partner with Apple Pay, while in November Qatar Airways announced it was integrating the technology for the purchasing of flights through its app. Other travel companies that have come on board include Airbnb, British Airways, Delta, Easyjet, Expedia, Marriott International and Uber.

2) CARING CAPITALISM

Over the past year we have seen a rise in travel start-ups with a conscience. Concept airline POP (People over Profit) wants to crowdfund flights between the UK and the Indian cities of Amritsar and Ahmedabad. If successful, its profits will be distributed between various charities.

The non-profit Green Rooms hotel opened in London’s Wood Green in June, with artists, designers and actors given booking priority for its stylish rooms (from £64 a night/£54 for creatives). In September, a former floating prison from the Netherlands took up a new mooring in Royal Victoria Docks near London City airport; all profits from the luxurious new Good Hotel will be reinvested in training schemes for unemployed locals. Founder Marten Dresden intends to open eight new properties by 2020.

3) BUY ON BOARD

As we reported in our December-January issue (“Snack attack”), more airlines are starting to charge for onboard catering in economy class. Following the example of low-cost carriers, many full-service airlines have started unbundling fares to generate profit 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.

United and American Airlines have been offering buy-on-board menus on shorter flights for years. Last month, BA scrapped its short-haul food service in favour of paid-for Marks and Spencer sandwiches, snacks and Percy Pig sweets on Euro Traveller and UK domestic flights in and out of Heathrow and Gatwick, and London City and Stansted by this summer. It’s likely that more airlines will take similar steps in the near future.

4) LUGGAGE TRACKING

New technology has greatly reduced the number of bags “mishandled” in transit. Over the next few years, we can expect electronic and home-printed tags, e-receipts, automated baggage systems and GPS tracking to improve things further.

By next year, 60 per cent of carriers will be sending baggage location status updates to your phone, according to air IT company SITA. By June 2018, IATA’s Resolution 753 will require airlines to “track a bag… and share this information with the next handling agent”. Delsey, Samsonite and Bluesmart all sell cases that alert you to their whereabouts. Qatar Airways provides push notifications with your bag’s tag number and estimated arrival time on the carousel.

5) CHAT BOTS

This is the year that “chat bots” will take off. Powered by artificial intelligence, cyber helpers are popping up on websites across the travel industry – from Radisson Blu Edwardian’s concierge “Edward” to Lufthansa’s “Mildred”, who will help you to find the cheapest flight.

Chat bots speak to you via instant messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger. KLM’s will tell you when it’s time to check in, ping you a boarding pass and change your seat if you ask nicely.

The tech isn’t perfect yet – Marriott’s first chat bot, launched in March last year, was killed after it started private-messaging people to ask if they wanted to book a hotel. It has since been disciplined and given a job in the Marriott Rewards department. Other companies employing chat bots include Aeromexico, Booking.com, BA, Expedia, Hyatt, Icelandair and Skyscanner.

6) GEOPOLITICAL UNCERTAINTY

Two words: Brexit and Trump. Exchange rates and markets have undoubtedly taken a hit, but when it comes to travel, most people want to keep calm and carry on. The American Express Global Business Travel Forecast 2017 predicts subdued growth and only moderate price increases across air, hotel and ground transport, indicating a higher level of uncertainty. The continued slowdown of the Chinese economy, terrorism and depressed oil prices are also contributing factors.

Choice Hotels’ European Hotelier Pulse-Check survey found that only 19 per cent of respondents thought Brexit might have a negative impact on their business. A poll on our website revealed that 46 per cent of readers expect to travel more in 2017.

7) TEAM TRAVEL

The IBTM Trends Watch Report 2016 predicts 2017 will see a “continuing rally in demand for incentive travel”, with budgets expanding for group incentive trips. Last year, per-person spending was back up to US$3,165.

Meetings are also on the rise, but European firms are being cautious about budgets, shortening travel time and combining multiple meetings. According to the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), Berlin, Paris and Barcelona are the most popular cities for meetings in Europe. The US, Germany and the UK are the most frequented countries overall.

8) ROBOT STAFF

According to market research company Forrester, by 2021 robots will have eliminated 6 per cent of all US jobs. Professor Moshe Vardi, of Rice University in the US, predicts that in the next 30 years robots will cause global unemployment of more than 50 per cent.

At the Hilton McLean in Virginia, robotic “concierge in training” Connie (pictured above) is gifted with artificial intelligence powered by IBM Watson, and speaks multiple languages. IHG’s Crowne Plaza San Jose Silicon Valley hotel has been trialling Dash, a three-foot-tall robot who can use lifts thanks to a wifi sensor, and deliver you snacks and drinks. Starwood’s Aloft is planning to roll out “Botlrs” across dozens of properties.

In Marrakech airport, Leo can check you in, print bag tags and carry cases to the baggage handling area. In Taipei, EVA Air now has Pepper who scans boarding passes, gives weather updates and poses for selfies.

9) REMOTE-FIRST BUSINESS

More and more organisations are doing away with bricks and mortar HQs in favour of being remote-first. For many people, this could mean continual or, at the very least, increased time abroad.

Bridging the gap between the nine-to-five office worker and the digital nomad running their business from a laptop by the pool are companies that have introduced “agile” working. Lancaster University’s Work Foundation predicts that 2017 will be the year that flexible working will reach a tipping point, with more people working outside of an office than in one. By 2020, 70 per cent of UK organisations will have embraced mobile working.

Co-working spaces such as We Work are on the rise for people who are “location independent”, while “co-working retreats” are springing up overseas. Initiatives include Hacker Paradise, Coconat, Surf Office, Koh Hub, Alpine Coworking and Coworking in the Sun.

10) A330NEO TAKES OFF

TAP Portugal will be the launch customer for Airbus’s new aircraft, the A330neo, this year. Much like Boeing’s B787 Dreamliner, it has prioritised an enhanced environment for passenger comfort and wellbeing, with ambient LED lighting, larger overhead bins, spacious washrooms and wifi. So far, 186 aircraft have been ordered, with other airlines including Delta Air Lines, Air Asia X and Garuda Indonesia.

11) BRAND OVERLOAD

Do you know the difference between a Moxy, a Vib and a Jaz in the City? Hotel chains just can’t stop launching new concepts to appeal to ever-greater subsets of travellers. The result is an overabundance of brands that no one can keep track of.

Since its takeover of Starwood at the end of last year, the biggest hotel group in the world, Marriott International, now has 30 brands. After taking over Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, Accorhotels now has 23, while IHG has 12 and Hilton 13.

In the future, we can expect new hotel companies to embrace a “singular experience” – creating just one brand to remove the anxiety of choice. One hospitality company that has stuck to this approach (so far) is Four Seasons, which has no sub-brands.

12) DESIGNER ROOM SERVICE

Packing can be stressful when you are trying to travel light, but some hotels are delivering designer fashion to your room so you can choose the clothes you need on arrival. W London Leicester Square introduced its “Walk Out Wardrobe” in partnership with rental site GirlMeetsDress.com in 2015. Guests staying in suites can order items in advance or call down to have a rail of outfits brought up free of charge.

London’s Berkeley hotel has collaborated with fashion resale site Vestiare Collective, which has curated a selection of vintage accessories to borrow or buy. The Fashion Trunk is stocked with everything from Hermès scarfs to Chanel clutches. In December, the Intercontinental London Park Lane teamed up with Harvey Nichols to provide a styling service. In Chicago, the Virgin hotel collects clothes you order from Gap on its in-room iPads and leaves them in your wardrobe.

13) APARTMENT RENTAL

Home stays are becoming more popular with business travellers. In April 2016, Onefinestay, which has a portfolio of more than 2,600 units in London, New York, Paris, Rome and LA, was bought for £117 million by Accorhotels, which will invest £50 million on expanding into 40 new cities over the next five years. Accorhotels also owns a stake in Oasis Collection, which has homes in 18 cities – by the end of 2017, it plans to have a presence in 50 cities.

Business nights booked on Airbnb, which launched self-service portal
airbnb.com/business-travel in 2015, tripled last year. American Express Global Business Travel, BCD Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel all now have agreements with Airbnb allowing clients to track bookings, while PAs and managers can reserve stays for travellers.

14) VOICE ACTIVATION

Voice recognition has been easing its way into our lives for a few years, via built-in virtual smartphone assistants such as Apple’s Siri. Last year, Amazon launched a voice-activated home speaker, the Echo, which answers questions, reads audio books and plays music on command. The Wynn hotel in Las Vegas has just installed them in each of its 4,748 rooms.

Aloft has unveiled the world’s first voice-activated hotel rooms in Boston and Santa Clara. A simple “Goodnight” will turn out the lights, while “Good morning” will switch them back on. Clarion Hotel Amaranten in Stockholm has run a trial using Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, allowing guests to book a taxi or set a wake-up alarm.

15) HYPER-PERSONALISATION

In summer last year, a survey of 2,000 people by travel tech firm Sabre found that many UK consumers were content to share their details in return for more bespoke service, with 25 per cent agreeing to share their location with travel companies.

Dr James Canton, of the Institute for Global Futures, says: “We’ll see predictive travel analytics anticipating what consumers want… The hotel booking will be helped along by artificial intelligence software agents, using data mining.” Uber’s latest app stores trace data from your journeys, enabling it to predict from your routines where you will want to go next. Google’s Trips app can trawl your Gmail account for flight and hotel bookings, store your reservations and propose itineraries.

Skyscanner forecasts that hotel software will link with guests’ social media profiles. The search engine’s director of hotels, Nik Gupta, says: “Guests will be provided with menus of things to do, restaurants and theatre performances, that exactly meet their individual preferences.”

16) CO-LIVING

Co-living is a cross between co-working spaces and house rentals – with flatmates. For the longer-stay business traveller or expat, a co-living set-up can give you the chance to stay in a stimulating environment alongside like-minded people. Working is central to the experience but so is sharing an evening meal or hosting a party. They are like modern communes for professionals.

Co-working giant We Work (now valued at more than US$16 billion) is now beta-testing stylish co-living spaces on New York’s Wall Street and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. By 2018 it is predicted that the new We Live brand will be generating more than US$600 million a year, with people staying from one night to one month at a time. Private studios start from US$135 a night and come with fold-out beds, TVs, AirPlay speaker systems and kitchens.

Roam runs co-living centres in London’s Sloane Square, Miami, Madrid and Bali. Tokyo and San Francisco are coming soon. Rooms come with en suite bathrooms, and one-week leases cost from US$500.

Serviced apartment company the Ascott Limited is launching a brand called Lyf (pronounced “life”), aimed at millennials. By 2020, it intends to have 10,000 Lyf co-living units complete with video-conferencing and hammocks. Communal spaces will offer Foosball tables, giant ball pits and cooking classes. Ascott CEO Lee Chee Koon says: “We are on the lookout for sites in key gateway cities for Lyf in Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the UK.” Other co-living ventures include the Collective, Pure House, Open Door, Commonspace, Zoku and Sabbatical.

17) STRIKES, DELAYS AND CANCELLATIONS

Last year was a nightmare for people travelling with many of the UK’s transport providers, and problems can be expected to continue in 2017. Southern Rail has seen endless strikes, cancellations and overcrowding, while Gatwick Express and London Underground passengers have also been affected by industrial action. Since December 23, Virgin Atlantic’s pilots have been refusing to work more than their rostered hours and, last month, British Airways staff went on strike for 48 hours.

The Europeans are no better – French air traffic control has gone on strike more than a dozen times in the past year. In November, a Lufthansa pilot walkout disrupted 525,000 passengers, while earlier in the year, the employees of numerous German airports refused to operate. These days, business travellers need to be armed with back-up plans, appropriate insurance and knowledge of how to claim compensation.

18) VIRTUAL REALITY

It’s a bit of a gimmick, but there is value in virtual reality headsets such as Google Daydream View, Samsung Gear and Occulus Rift. VR certainly won’t be replacing the need or desire for travel, but plenty of companies are tapping into its potential to showcase their products and destinations.

In November, Marriott teamed up with UK tech start-up GoInStore to provide virtual tours of event facilities. United is using 360-degree virtual reality to show off its new Polaris business class seat, while Accorhotels, Amba, Best Western and Shangri-La have been using it to present their properties.

19) POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

The business traveller is at greater risk than most of stress, fatigue, depression and burnout. A 2016 Booking.com survey of 4,555 frequent flyers found that 93 per cent were wrung-out by business travel.

In 2017, positive psychology – essentially the science of happiness – will be a popular buzz phrase of the moment. Gaining an understanding of our own mental health can help us to make better life choices. Thinking positively can even improve our physical health – last year, a study of 70,000 women in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that optimists were less likely to get fatal cancer, heart disease, lung conditions or stroke in retirement.

20) IQ ECONOMY

The business traveller of yesterday lived by the mantra “time is money”; the business traveller of today lives by the mantra “time is mine”. Linked to the “optimised self” trend for self-betterment, travel companies are recognising the demand for enrichment.

Shangri-La, Rosewood, Soho House, Ace and Hoxton are inviting industry experts to speak at cultural workshops and seminars. London’s Corinthia hotel has a resident neuroscientist who has developed a Brain Power package, while Marriott is working with TED Talks to organise live events and bespoke in-room TV programming.


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