Features

21 business travel trends

30 Mar 2015 by Jenny Southan
What will the next decade of business travel look like? Jenny Southan pinpoints the innovations that will change the way we do things 1. THE NEW SUPERSONIC Concorde may be dead but supersonic is set to make a comeback. US engineering firm Spike Aerospace is developing a 12- to 18-seat jet (the Spike S-512) that could fly between London and New York in four hours. It would have “luxurious multiplex digital cabins” with full-length screens along the windowless walls. If all goes to plan, it could be flying by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, Aerion Corporation is working on a private jet able to reach Mach 1.6 (1,100mph) for a launch by 2020, and Hypermach Aerospace plans to start work on its SonicStar jet at the start of the next decade. It would be able to go twice as fast as Concorde, reaching speeds of Mach 4 (3,045mph). And then there is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which he is pushing ahead with despite a fatal crash last year. 2. HAIL-A-JET AGE Private jets are entering the mainstream thanks to apps enabling travellers to book seats on aircraft that would otherwise fly half-full or even empty on return trips. PrivateFly, which launched in 2010, provides access to more than 7,000 jets around the world and claims it can get passengers from the ground to the air in 45 minutes. JetSmarter, which entered the market in 2013, offers more than 2,500 empty legs a month at a cost of US$7,000 per year, plus 3,000 planes available for charter. There’s also Blackjet, which sells seats on jets travelling between ten US cities (annual membership is US$2,500 and grants discounted empty-leg flights), and Surf Air, which has a US$1,750 a month payment plan with 44 daily flights to eight US cities. Fresh Jets doesn’t charge anything to sign up, has more than 1,200 aircraft and flights starting from US$799. 3. ECONOMY CLASS SLIMS DOWN As discussed in last month’s issue (“Feel the squeeze”), airlines are cramming more seats into economy class. Emirates set the trend when it configured its B777s with ten-across instead of nine-across seating, and most airlines have gone for 3-3-3 layouts on the Dreamliner instead of Boeing’s suggested 2-4-2. Thanks to new slimline seats, extra rows are being added and legroom is being reduced. Air Asia X has ordered a ten-across version of the new A350, which will enter service in a few years’ time; 11-across seating on the A380 will not be a surprise. 4. PREMIUM ECONOMY 2.0 Premium economy is moving from being an “enhanced” economy seat with extra legroom, amenity kits and better food to a stand-alone product in itself. Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines recently unveiled new seats, but some airlines are seeing value in taking their designs further. Air New Zealand’s fixed-shell “Spaceseat” on the B777-300ER has central panels between pairs that lift up to form a shared dining table. Air France, China Airlines and Japan Airlines have also fitted fixed-shell seats that are closer to what business class used to be like. In March, British Airways revealed it had patented a forward-backward facing design for seat pairs complete with privacy screens. 5. ALL-BUSINESS CLASS AIRLINES In the noughties, a slew of airlines tried and failed to launch all-business class services. Eos, Maxjet and Silverjet all went bust by the summer of 2008 after oil prices went over US$100 a barrel. Other carriers then tried the more modest tactic of configuring some of their aircraft solely with business class seats on specific routes. BA’s all-Club World A318 service from London City to New York JFK has now been running for more than five years, while in February last year, Qatar Airways launched its first all-business class A319 from Doha to Heathrow. However, in 2012, Hong Kong Airlines had to suspend its premium A330 Hong Kong-Gatwick service. With the economy picking up and oil prices far lower, there is renewed determination for the concept to work. French airline La Compagnie launched on Paris Orly-New York Newark last summer, followed by London Luton-Newark in February. Next year, UK-based, crowd-funded start-up Odyssey Airlines is planning to launch business-class-only flights from London City to the Big Apple. 6. FIRST CLASS HOTEL ROOMS With business class products improving all the time, first class has to work harder to differentiate itself. While a number of carriers, such as Singapore Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Emirates, provide personal suites, last year Etihad took it to the extreme with the unveiling of its Residence on the inaugural A380 service from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow in December. A hotel-style room in the nose of the superjumbo, the Residence has its own set of doors, a living room with two couches and a 32-inch TV, a bathroom with a shower, and a bedroom with a double bed. You also get your own chef and a butler trained by the Savoy. In addition, the aircraft is fitted with nine first class Apartments in a single-aisle cabin. 7. AIRPORTS AS HAPPINESS HUBS As demand for air travel increases, airports are getting bigger – and better. Singapore Changi is consistently voted the best in the world, with facilities such as a butterfly garden, rooftop pool and cinemas – and yet its vision for the future is even more ambitious. The 3.5-hectare Jewel extension, set for completion in 2018, will have a domed glass roof under which will sit 22,000 sqm of gardens, a 130-room Yotel, and 300 shops and restaurants. Highlights will include an air-conditioned Forest Valley with walking trails, and a 40-metre Rain Vortex – the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The impressive range of facilities at Amsterdam Schiphol – which calls itself an “airport city” – includes a casino, spa, meditation centre, art gallery and library, while Hong Kong International has a nine-hole golf course and an Imax theatre. Heathrow’s new T2 is home to Heston Blumenthal’s Perfectionist’s Café, which comes complete with a nitrogen ice cream parlour. 8. BIOTECH AND MICROCHIPS With more countries issuing biometric e-passports, and greater volumes of passengers flying, increasing numbers of airports will install automated immigration gates and use facial and gait recognition to monitor queues and flows throughout the terminals. Fingerprint and body scanning may also become more prevalent. Gatwick has installed electronic eyes from Human Recognition Systems that track how long it takes individuals to get through the security process by scanning their faces and irises, and then converting the information into code (to maintain privacy). Somewhat scarier is the prospect of “embedded biotech”, whereby microchips are surgically inserted under the skin – in years to come, travellers may have personal ID chips implanted, which they could use instead of a passport. 9. STATUS FOR SALE Last summer we reported on how airline and hotel loyalty programmes were moving to revenue-based models that reward how much you spend, not how many nights you stay or flights you take (See “Hey big spender”). Fast forward several months, and British Airways, Malaysia Airlines and United are among the carriers that have made this change. 10. LOYALTY ATHEISM The revamping of loyalty schemes may have a counter-effect. As frequent flyers become disillusioned with new models, a growing minority are abandoning them, freeing themselves up to choose the airlines that offer the best timings, prices and onboard experiences. Such “loyalty atheists” gain many of the benefits of having status (such as lounge access) by paying to fly in premium cabins, and on shorter flights don’t mind saving money by flying low-cost carriers. 11. 3D PRINTING If you haven’t yet got your head around 3D printing, you need to. It’s the “third industrial revolution” allowing individuals and manufacturers to convert CGI imagery into tangible objects through the sequential layering of materials, producing everything from replacement hips to aircraft engines. In the future, we will be seeing 3D printed architecture. In January, Chinese company Winsun unveiled a 1,100 sqm villa it had printed in a month with only eight people – a third of the time and manpower required for traditional construction, and half the price. Adam Kushner, president of D-Shape Enterprises, is printing a four-bedroom residence with a pool in Upstate New York; and NASA is experimenting with the technology to build lunar modules for the moon. It won’t be long until hoteliers get in on the action – whether for creating interiors and fixtures, or full-scale buildings. For chains, the possibility of replicating their offering quickly and precisely will hold great appeal. In the meantime, you may find 3D printers appearing in business centres, allowing you to arrive at a presentation with a freshly-made 3D prototype. 12. SMALL ROOMS, BIG VALUE Tiny sleeping spaces have been big in Japan for decades, with salarymen bedding down in 3 sqm “capsule hotels” that look more like stacks of washing machines. Nine Hours recently opened a property at Tokyo Narita airport with 129 units priced from about £9 an hour. The concept has also started to take off in the West. Yotel offers cabins from 7 sqm at Heathrow, Gatwick and Amsterdam Schiphol airports; Bloc arrived in Gatwick a year ago with rooms from 9.5 sqm; Munich airport offers 4 sqm Napcab pods; while the new GoSleep capsules at Helsinki airport are even cosier, at one metre high by two metres long. In London, the first Hub by Premier Inn property opened in November near Covent Garden. Rooms are 11.4 sqm and cost from £79, with high-spec, high-tech fixtures and fittings (click here to read a review). The company has bought another seven sites in the capital, plus three in Edinburgh. 13. LIFESTYLE BRANDS Thanks to an obsession with “millennials”, big hotel groups have begun launching “lifestyle” brands with a more individual feel. At the top end of the scale, Marriott International debuted Edition in partnership with US hotelier Ian Schrager in Waikiki in 2010. While that property has since left the brand, there are now Editions in London, Istanbul and Miami, with New York, Abu Dhabi and Bangkok in the pipeline. Marriott also has the Autograph Collection – with a tagline of “exactly like nothing else” – while at the no-frills end, it unveiled Moxy last September at Milan Malpensa airport, with sexy digital prints and Instagram walls (click here for a review). Another 150 Moxys are set to arrive by 2020. Hilton Worldwide has two new brands. Curio is a collection of four- and five-star hotels “hand-picked for [their] distinctive character”, which first entered the market last summer. Canopy by Hilton is “all about being local, through design, food and beverage, art and local know-how”, and is expected to debut this year. Langham Hotels’ Cordis (high-end but without the opulence) arrives in Hong Kong in May, while Hyatt Centric – “for modern explorers” – will launch in Chicago and Miami this month. IHG, meanwhile, has Even hotels – aimed at “travellers who maintain a healthy and active lifestyle”. There are two open in the US and three more in the pipeline. 14. LUXURY HOSTELS A new breed of “poshtels” is also popping up (see “Bunking down”). Carl Michel, executive chairman of Generator hostels, which arrived in Paris in February, says uptake from business travellers has been gradually rising. Marco Nijhof, chief executive officer of Yoo Hotels and Resorts, is a fan: “My secretary told me I had to stay in a Generator hostel and I said: ‘How low do you want me to go?’ But I was blown away. They have created an experience that is fantastic – I walked in [to the London property] not knowing what to expect, but it was full. I thought with my grey hair I was going to be the oldest man walking around but that was not the case.” Safestay is another brand to keep an eye out for, along with independents such as the Kex hostel in Reykjavik. 15. SHARING ECONOMY If you haven’t tried renting someone’s apartment through Airbnb yet, there are plenty who have – the company is now worth more than US$20 billion, and has more than one million listings in 34,000 cities in 190 countries. It has also been branching into the corporate market with a portal for business travellers (airbnb.co.uk/business-travel) and a deal with expense management company Concur last year, allowing travel managers to keep track of where employees are staying and making sure properties meet requirements. One Fine Stay is a similar model but exclusively for the rental of luxury homes in London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris, with staff providing hotel-like services. You can also find sites dedicated to sharing workspace, cars and parking. (See “Friends with benefits”). 16. ON-DEMAND CAR RENTAL Companies such as Sixt, Hertz and Zipcar are embracing mobile apps to facilitate instant pick-ups and drop-offs in city centres and airports. They have “free floating” fleets so you don’t have to go to a rental office or deal with staff. (See “Streets ahead”). 17. ROBOT CARS The UK Commons transport committee says that both driverless and semi-autonomous cars will be on our roads in the next ten years, with trials already under way in Greenwich. In the US, self-driving vehicles are expected to be on the streets of 30 US cities by the end of next year. Google has been working on developing robot cars for some time, testing them in California, while Abu Dhabi’s futuristic Masdar City project has been using solar-powered “autonomous people movers” for the past few years. 18. INTERNET OF THINGS Known as the “second digital revolution”, the dawn of web-enabled everyday objects, and the ability to control them with your personal devices, is already upon us. Whether you are turning on the central heating in your home remotely (Nest) or letting your fridge tell you what shopping you need (LG Smart Thinq), the gadgets in our lives are becoming intelligent, speaking to our smartphones, tablets and wearable devices such as the new Apple Watch. In the travel industry, Starwood Preferred Guest is testing a feature on its app that enables guests to open the doors to their rooms with their phone. Air France-KLM is experimenting with luggage tracking tags and devices, while the new Virgin Hotel Chicago’s app, called Lucy, can be used to customise the entire in-room experience. 19. INSTANT TRANSLATION Doing business worldwide will be so much easier with instant translation technology. In December, Skype unveiled a beta version of Translator, a feature that allows two people speaking via video link to hear an artificial voice translating what has been said, live. It’s slow right now, and does make mistakes, but in the future it could be integrated with large-scale video-conferencing suites. Platforms such as Globr offer instant messaging translation, while iTranslate also employs voice recognition. Google Translate recently incorporated Word Lens – hold your smartphone’s camera up to a road sign or restaurant menu, for example, and it will convert what is written into your chosen language. 20. CRYPTO-CURRENCIES In a world of fluctuating currencies, buying and selling across borders can often mean you lose out on exchange rates. The use of crypto or digital currencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) gets around this as they have a real-world value and can be used internationally. Last summer, Expedia began trialling Bitcoins as payment for hotel bookings in the US. The Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn will process Bitcoins at its front desk with BitPay’s payment system, while Airbnb, Uber and OpenTable are tipped to accept digital currencies in the future. You can buy them at special ATMs such as in London’s Shoreditch to keep in a virtual wallet, or through sites like Bittylicious. At the time of going to press, one BTC was £198.58 but the value has been much higher in the past. 21. THE END OF PRIVACY As we reported in “Web of intrigue”, Google is using the vast amount of data it has about the world – and us – to transform the way we travel: “Depending on your privacy settings and how much information you voluntarily give up, the tech giant knows where you are, the places you travel to, the restaurants you eat in, the location of your home and office, who your friends are, the things you like, the websites you browse and what’s written in your emails. Google probably knows you better than your own parents.” It is using this information to personalise your online experience, with the aim of making life easier for you, but it is at the cost of keeping your data private. In the future, most of us will realise resistance is futile. Companies and business people will hire online privacy managers to ensure sensitive information is protected – but, even then, the government could well be snooping.
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