Category Archives: Business Travel

5 tech-friendly hotels

Courtesy of Hotel 1000

At Seattle’s Hotel 1000, the staff “rings” a silent doorbell to your room that triggers an infrared scan to gauge whether the room is currently occupied.

Perhaps your children or grandchildren will one day ask, incredulously, “You mean, hotels had front desks and they were staffed by hotel employees when you were my age?” Well, most kids aren’t asking these sorts of questions yet, but some of today’s hotels are getting so teched-up that it isn’t difficult to envision such inquiries.

Following are five hotel brands or properties which distinguish themselves for their overall high-tech ambiance or at least have some noteworthy digital features.

Aloft, New York City and Dallas
Some 6,000 Starwood Preferred Guest members currently are enrolled in Aloft Smart Check-in, a program which furnishes guests with an Aloft-branded SPG card, enabling them to skip the hotel front desk at Aloft Lexington, Aloft Harlem and Aloft New York Brooklyn, all in New York City, as well as Aloft Dallas Downtown, and proceed right to their pre-assigned rooms.

Guests get their room assignments emailed to them on the day of the reservation and their Aloft-branded loyalty cards, which use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, can be placed in front of the door lock to gain entry.

Hotel 1000, Seattle
Tired of the hotel housekeeping staff barging into your room to see if it’s time to make the beds? Welcome to Seattle’s Hotel 1000, where the staff “rings” a silent doorbell to your room and it triggers an infrared scan to gauge whether the room is currently occupied.

There are lots of other Hotel 1000 tech bells and whistles, including a customized Microsoft Surface table in Studio 1000. The table is a multi-user, multi-touch computing device which allows guests to engage a Virtual Concierge to locate the city’s hot enclaves, upload and share vacation photos, and even dabble in a little chess or checkers.

The Plaza Hotel
If you prefer flesh and blood concierges to the virtual variety, then you can always summon one such human through a customized app on the iPad, which is standard issue in every guestroom at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. The Plaza’s iPads use customized Interactive Customer Solution software, which features touchscreen integration to the concierge, room service, wake-up calls and the ability to print your flight boarding pass.

Courtyard by Marriott
Whether guests lobbied for this or not, some 390 Courtyard by Marriott lobbies in the U.S., as well as three airports (Baltimore, Phoenix and Houston) feature GoBoard 57-inch LCD touchscreens from Four Winds Interactive. The recently installed GoBoard version 4.0 includes mobile options in addition to the usual information about the hotel itself and area attractions. Using Microsoft Tag mobile technology, guests can send driving directions from the GoBoards directly to their smartphones. And, if ambling over to an attraction is more your style, then the GoBoards also offer walking directions to area restaurants and tourists spots.

Aria Resort Casino CityCenter Las Vegas
Aria has programmed its guestrooms to remember repeat-visitors’ preferred music, room lighting and temperature settings — even if the guest doesn’t have total recall. And a remote control can alter these choices and control the TV/video systems and curtains, as well. And, if guests have the presence of mind after a day of conference sessions or blackjack-table hopping, they can also bid themselves “goodnight” to activate privacy settings and turn off the TV, music and lights.

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Global threats persist for road warriors, businesses in 2012

The new year will pose unprecedented challenges and risks for organizations worldwide, according to a new threat forecast.

“Broadly speaking, austerity and economic issues in Europe and elsewhere will be the threats that will most readily impact” business travelers and companies, said Bruce McIndoe, president of iJET International Inc, a travel risk management company based in Annapolis, Md.

“There will be a lot of disruption,” he said, “not necessarily bodily harm, but the social unrest will cause problems to medical, transportation and other infrastructure.”

In addition to the global economic crisis, civil unrest, political discontent, ethnic and racial disputes, high-level kidnappings and terrorist activity on multiple continents, and global health issues like Avian flu and the possible resurgence of endemic diseases like polio, will continue to impact businesses and organizations.  

“That threat is there. Everything is ripe for that to pop,” McIndoe said. “People need to think seriously about it and be prepared.”

McIndoe said 2011 was unprecedented because seven or eight countries were “toppled” and the economic meltdown in Europe were “significant events that we have not traditionally had to deal with.” Many of last year’s threats will continue and are expected to increase in frequency and severity next year.

iJET’s 2012 threat forecast outlines key events and issues that will impact global businesses; the report is meant to help them anticipate and prepare for crisis situations. The company provides intelligence to more than 500 multinational corporations and governments. This is the sixth year it has released a global risk prediction report, based on analysis of more than 50 subject matter experts across five continents.

How accurate were last year’s predictions?

“Probably seven of the 10 things we identified came to fruition,” McIndoe said. The 2011 threats that iJET and its regional analysts correctly predicted a year ago include: increased violence in Guatemala due to a surge in drug trafficking; more violence in Yemen; ongoing tensions in Lebanon; post-election violence in the Ivory Coast; and conflict between the U.S. and Pakistan in light of Pakistan’s apparent collusion with Afghan terrorists.

These threats had a direct impact on operations, assets and bottom lines for thousands of businesses, iJET said.

The Global Business Travel Association, a trade group for corporate travel managers and suppliers, conducted new research that has quantified the financial impact of major weather events on the business travel industry. According to the research, there would be an initial loss of about 514,000 trips and $606 million in spending due to storm-related cancellations. The total GDP loss for interrupted business trips would be about $675 million, the group reported.

In addition to the yearly forecasts, iJet also provides a series of other alerts to clients: a Monthly Intelligence Forecast, a  Daily Intelligence Briefing, and Real-time Alerts, on issues such as where it is safe to go in Mexico, updates about the bird flu or the most recent bombing in Pakistan. Some are geared to clients’ special interests or regions where business is conducted. 

On Wednesday the company sent a Real-time Alert via text, e-mail and other messaging systems, advising clients with staff in Washington that “unruly” protests by Occupy D.C. were taking place, cautioning them to avoid those areas: “Occupy protesters causing major traffic disruptions Dec. 7 along K Street in northwest Washington, DC, US,” the text message read.

“All we’re doing is helping companies prioritize,” McIndoe said. If a company is operating in 60 countries, iJET will provide intelligence on the 20 on which to focus. The bottom line is forecasts help “employees feel confident about their safety and enable businesses to service their clients,” he said.

The need for such forecasts may be increasing. 

The number of events that are thought to disrupt travel in or to risk areas now occur “roughly three times a week,” said Michael Steiner, executive vice president of Ovation Travel Group, a New York-based travel management company.

“We’ve been in that world for the past couple of years,” Steiner said. When there are potential threats to clients, due to political upheavals or natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Ovation pulls data from a number of third-party providers, which is aggregated and used to make business decisions. “Our goal is to establish risk, and then get them the data within the hour,” he said.

Until recently, large multinational companies expressed the most interest in risk management strategy, but in the last 12 months “more and more mid-size companies are interested in knowing where there folks are and taking responsibility for them,” Steiner said.

Global economic instability, iJet warns, will continue to be the primary engine for public uprisings, as seen by recent events like the Arab Spring, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and civil unrest in countries like Chile and Greece.

iJET urges organizations and travelers to pay special attention to the following issues in 2012:

  • Arab Spring activities will not subside in 2012. In addition, Syrian protests, the bid for Palestinian statehood, and the U.S.’s decision to remove its troops from Iraq by year-end 2011 are among the events expected to drive ongoing instability across the region.
  • Ethnic and racial disputes will elevate globally. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant fervor, for example, are likely to intensify in many parts of Europe.
  • Elections and new political leadership in Iran, Egypt, China and Mexico, among others, will result in increased tensions and social discontent in those countries.
  • Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam will witness increasing political discontent and business disruptions as a result of the 2011 floods.
  • High-level kidnappings and terrorist activity will likely escalate in the Sahel region (i.e., Nigeria and the Sudan) and the Islamic Maghreb (i.e., Tunisia and Libya).
  • Global health issues will continue to impact businesses and organizations. Avian flu, the possible resurgence of endemic diseases like polio, and ongoing food shortages in developing nations may lead to humanitarian and disease crises.

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VIP airport lounges: How to get in

Courtesy of Plaza Premium Lounge

Plaza Premium Lounge has 50 lounges in 16 cities in seven countries, mostly in Asia.

Imagine arriving at the airport for a domestic flight, first-class ticket in hand, only to find that you aren’t welcome in the airline’s lounge. It’s a rude shock, especially if you used 15,000 frequent-flyer miles plus a $75 co-pay to upgrade from coach.

Slideshow: See the how-to’s of getting into a VIP lounge

A domestic first-class flier on many airlines may discover he has no more pre-flight perks than the backpacker in row 48 who got a discount economy ticket from a back-alley bucket shop. The only difference is that the backpacker doesn’t expect to be treated well by the airlines. Front-of-the-cabin customers usually hope for better.

That’s exactly what happened to me before a recent flight from Newark to Phoenix. To say I was disappointed does injustice to my blighted hope. I had been looking forward to a nice glass of chilled Sancerre blanc, a complimentary copy of The New York Times, free Wi-Fi, and a little something to nibble on — maybe some Beluga caviar on organic toast points — while I basked in the comfort of a cushy leather armchair. Instead I found myself sipping a Styrofoam cup of weak coffee on a hard bench at the dismal McDonald’s stand in Terminal C. Bummer.

Had I been better prepared, I might have considered one of several alternative ways to get into the executive lounge. I could have bought a membership, or even a day pass. I could have chosen to go to Phnom Penh instead of Phoenix (international business- and first-class passengers almost always get lounge access.) As I later discovered, there are numerous ways to get first-class treatment at the airport even if you’re not a first-class passenger.

In my case, relaxing in the lounge wasn’t crucial. But sometimes access to one of those sought-after sanctuaries is almost a necessity — especially if you have a long transit wait on an international flight, or if you must check out of your hotel at noon but have work to do for the next 10 or 12 hours until your red-eye departs.

So if you don’t otherwise qualify for lounge access, consider one of the many optional ways to elicit the magic words, “open sesame.”

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Best tablets for business travelers

The laptop is dead. Long live the tablet.

When the iPad was first unveiled, in January 2010, consumers fell in love. And the electronics industry retooled to get in on the tablet game. Since then, more than a hundred of the devices have entered the market, to the point where keeping track of the parade of tablets coming out is close to impossible.

Slideshow: Best tablets for business travelers

That said, no matter how many new devices hit the street, they all remain locked in competition with the elephant in the office: the Apple iPad series, which by some estimates retains a nearly 70 percent share of the tablet market. The iPad remains the juggernaut to beat in this business, and its dominance ensures that by the time the new year rolls around, only a handful of those 80 tablets will still be alive and kicking.

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On the other hand, the iPad can’t (and doesn’t) do everything, and for many users it’s not the end-all, be-all of technology. After all, the iPhone is now getting clobbered by Android handsets, and Google’s mobile OS is finally starting to take tablets seriously. The iPad may not have great competition yet, but it’s coming.

That’s actually good news if you haven’t bought a tablet yet (and most of you haven’t). But how do you decide which one is right for you? The major decisions are pretty easy: Which OS do you prefer: Apple, Android or something else?

Next, how big do you want the screen to be? The difference between a 10-inch screen and a 7-inch screen may sound minimal, but a slim Samsung Galaxy will slip into your coat pocket. On the other hand, the twin-screened Acer Iconia will require a bag or a briefcase.

Finally, which features do you need? Many of the newer tablets seem to come with cameras, ports to connect to a TV and 4G wireless capabilities. Some offer a stylus for more detailed art needs. Others double as fancy TV remote controls.

Don’t like what you see? Hang out a couple of months and you’ll find a new crop to choose from.

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Copyright © 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation

Ranking the major airlines for business travel

Each year, Business Travel News publishes its Annual Airline Survey, ranking the five largest domestic airlines in the U.S. The results are based on a poll of 406 travel managers and buyers who spend more than $500,000 a year on flights booked in the U.S. BTN gathers data across 10 categories, including price value, flexibility in negotiation of prices, complaint resolution, and customer service. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the results of this year’s survey and added several factors that may be an indication of future performance, including airline revenue and profitability.

Delta took the top spot for the first time in the survey’s history. BTN wrote of Delta in the report “Flexibility in structuring transient and meetings pricing helped Delta clinch a first-place finish over United, according to survey results. Delta also topped all domestic competitors in complaint/problem resolution, quality of communications and the value of its network and partners.”

Airlines care about these reports because the industry is crowded and in trouble. There are a number of niche airlines like JetBlue and several large airlines from Asia and Europe that fly into major U.S. cities. All of the airlines on this list are also affected by high fuel prices, which have hurt profitability for three years, and by low seat demand due to the recession.

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An airline that struggles to fund its current staff levels and new plans may have to sacrifice routes or service to bring costs into line. Recent reports, for example, indicate that American Airlines’ parent AMR may file for Chapter 11. It is too early to say how many planes AA might take out of service if that were to happen, or how many routes might be shut down or workers laid off. Such an action, though, would almost certainly affect service.

These are the airlines, ranked best to worst, along with 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis of their prospects.

1. Delta Airlines

  • BTN airline score: 3.14 (the best)
  • Revenue: $31.1 billion
  • Net income: $593 million
  • Share price: $8.50, down 30 percent from 52-week high

For the first time, Delta beat the other competing airlines. The company ranked first in five out of the ten categories, including complaint/problem resolution and quality of communications. Delta bought Northwest Air in 2008, creating the world’s largest airline at the time. The move was motivated to some extent by the fact that $140 oil prices had put tremendous pressure on profits. The Northwest buyout was intended to let Delta take out redundant costs. Airline combinations often cause short-term problems with customer service as reservation systems need to be merged and duplicate routes are often cut. Lay-offs can also cause problems with customer service. Based on the results of this survey, Delta seems to have overcome those problems.

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2. United Airlines/Continental

  • BTN airline score: 3.12 (second best)
  • Revenue: $23.2 billion
  • Net income: $253 million
  • Share price: $19.32, down 25 percent from 52-week high

United and Continental merged in 2010, replacing Delta as the world’s largest airline. Continental was last year’s best-rated airline, but the merger has dropped the new company to second. United is still ranked first in three categories, including quality of customer service. United and Continental merged for much the same reasons as the Delta/Northwest deal. The merged company benefited from economies of scale and is now in the midst of an upgrade of its fleet. It will take delivery of 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners soon. The airline recently upgraded its frequent flier program to make it more attractive to business travelers.

3. US Airways

  • BTN airline score: 3.07 (3rd best)
  • Revenue: $11.9 billion
  • Net income: $502 million
  • Share price: $5.44, down 40 percent from 52-week high

US Airways improved from last place in 2010 to third place this year. According to BTN: “Corporate travel buyers have recognized a more active and flexible US Airways, placing the carrier third overall in BTN’s survey and bestowing the highest rating in two categories: the value of relationships with account managers and overall price value.” US Air does not have nearly the overseas capacity that its larger rivals do. As a consequence, competes with them almost exclusively in the American market. This may have some advantages because US Air does not have to manage overseas routes to match foreign carriers like Lufthansa. These long-haul carriers have to make financial commitments to expensive fleets of big planes. US Air has one advantage over its domestic competition in the overseas route category. It is a member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest airlines consortium. That means it can extend its routes to 160 nations using the alliances it has with its partners.

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4. American Airlines

  • BTN airline score: 2.94 (2nd worst)
  • Revenue last year: $22.2 billion
  • Net income: -$471 million
  • Share price: $2.50, down 60 percent from 52-week high

The BTN report states: “(F)ollowing a second-place finish in 2010, American Airlines’ scores this year declined in every category, with the largest decreases related to buyers’ perceptions of the value of its network and partnerships, quality of communications and availability of distribution channels.” American is by far the most troubled airline financially in the U.S. There have been rumors recently that it may file Chapter 11. The carrier says it cannot remain viable with the expense of its current labor contracts. American has already started to cut services. It will retire eleven 737s and suspend operations on several routes.

5. Southwest

  • BTN airline score: 2.9 (the worst)
  • Revenue: $12.1 billion
  • Net income: $459 million
  • Share price: $7.88, down 40 percent from 52-week high

Southwest often does well on airline customer satisfaction surveys. It prides itself on friendly service and the fact that it does not charge bag fees as most of its rivals do. But the carrier bought rival Airtran earlier this year, and investors are concerned that this transaction will hurt service and the airline’s reputation along with it. In this year’s rating, the company ranked last or second-to-last in all but one category. The company performed particularly poorly in its distribution channels and flexibility. Deutsche Bank recently downgraded Southwest’s shares to “hold” from “buy” because it believes the process of integrating the operations of the two carriers will be long and hard.

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Copyright © 2011 24/7 Wall St. Republished with permission.