Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Competition for business hotel bookings hots up!

"The customer is always" right may be a cliché, but it has never been truer than it is now, especially when it comes to frequent travelers. Hotels in the world's business cities are so keen to attract the corporate pound, euro or dollar that they are prepared to do almost anything corporate globetrotters demand. And if that means items that were once seen as extras are now included in the room rate, that's what they will provide.

Meanwhile, in these economically difficult times, finance directors in companies large and small are checking executives' business accommodation expenses with unprecedented, even forensic, attention. In a climate where every bit of expenditure has to be justified, it is small wonder that business travelers don't want any unpleasant surprises when they are presented with the bill.

"Gone are the days when I would be happy to just pay the hotel bill without questioning the cost of phone calls, the breakfast, the mineral water, the odd beer from the mini bar and those other minor extras that ensured my stay was satisfactory," says Nigel Massey, managing director of a U.K.-based communications company.

"Today I want complete transparency when I book corporate hotel reservations. I want to be able to demonstrate to my financial director that what I spent has been worth it and that value was my overriding criterion in every hotel," he says.

"I expect my room rate to include things that were once charged, so hotels like the Hoxton in London and the Hotel du Vin chain have been inspirational in their forward thinking," he says. "At the Hoxton I am delighted that local phone calls (and they are few as I use a mobile) are free, that the morning breakfast left at my door is included, as [are]…my morning paper and Wi-Fi costs," he adds. "The days of creaming off huge extras for unwary business travelers are numbered."

Generally, it is the boutique-style, smaller hotels that score best, Mr. Massey says, though some of the bigger hotel chains are also doing well. "Groups such as Jumeira and Mandarin are cleverly and sensibly waking up to the fact that they need people like me. We have a choice and the determining factor from now is transparency, honesty and value."

The Jumeira, for example, provides large bottles of shampoo and other toiletries in the bathroom, rather than the tiny plastic sachets that most hotels opt for.

"They also say that the word 'no' is not now used with regard to guest services. I have tested them with some pretty demanding requests, such as wanting them to find me a courier service in the middle of the night and asking them to arrange for a shop to deliver some running shoes to replace the ones I had forgotten to pack, and it is true. They are also making Wi-Fi and mineral water free," Mr Massey says.

"I never forget the hotels that make 'gestures' however small. Free laundry of one shirt is a small gesture but leaves me with a warm and supportive feeling about the hotel which makes me vow to return."

But this inclusive approach doesn't go down well with everyone. Fund manager Richard Haylock, whose firm has offices in several European countries as well as throughout Asia, says "I don't really bother too much about whether everything is included in the room rate. In fact…I prefer having the option to choose which facilities and services I want and then pay for them."

Business travelers "always ask for itemized bills" rather than all-inclusive ones, says Debrah Dhugga, general manager at Dukes hotel in London. "We also offer complimentary Wi-Fi; however if we did not, I can imagine frequent travelers would demand it. I would," she says.

"What people really want is technology that's easy to use and the possibility of an early check-in," Ms Dhugga adds.

While there is little doubt the demand for smaller boutique-style hotels in city centers is increasing rapidly, the case for the chain hotels can also be powerful. Many business travelers enjoy staying in branded hotels not only because they know what to expect and are safe in the knowledge they can conduct their work efficiently and in comfort, they also appreciate the hotel chains' loyalty programs, probably the single biggest incentive for staying at a chain hotel.

"I tend to use the big business chain hotels, where there are no surprises, everything is familiar and you know exactly what you are going to get," says Mr. Haylock. "This is important when, as I often do, you wind up having to visit destinations slightly off the usual well-trodden routes."

Italy-based corporate lawyer Nicoletta Trapani, whose work takes her all over Europe and the Middle East, agrees. "I usually choose to stay in one of the big-name hotels when I'm away on business," she says. "I simply want to know that all the business facilities I need will be on hand and I need plenty of public areas in the hotel where I can meet clients."

"I think most hotel managers now realize that business travelers are on a tight budget and trim their rates accordingly," says Ms. Trapani. "Yes, I think it is nice when the occasional 'extra' is provided at no additional cost but for me the most important thing is that all the facilities I need, such as a good laundry service, hairdresser and efficient room service, are on hand".

Hoteliers say customized service is also important.

"I always expect a very high level of customer service," says Sir Rocco Forte, CEO and chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, who travels at least once a week. "Everyone should feel important and be dealt with on a personalized basis.

"Service should meet the individual needs of a client like a bespoke tailor. I'm not a lover of huge hotels; I prefer hotels where you are recognized."

And for Reto Wittwer, chief executive of Geneva-based Kempinski hotels, the choice is clear. "Wherever I go, the location plays an important role, but what I treasure when traveling on business is efficiency and service," he says.

"I look for customized service and attentive staff. Everyone can build a four-star hotel, but the fifth star you only get through your staff and the level of service they are providing."

Access to a business center and all the high-tech gadgetry needed during a trip should be a given, travelers say, with Wi-Fi internet access as standard.

Orient Express Hotels , for example, the company best known for its luxury trains, is one of a number of hotel groups using a mixture of innovation and service to meet business travelers' needs. At one of its latest hotels, the Palacio Nazarenas in Cuzco, Peru, due to open in June, guests will find iPads in every room, loaded with insider city guides, handy tips, and daily newspapers in their own language.

Meanwhile, at the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg the emphasis is on offering a comprehensive concierge service for business travelers, which could include finding hard-to-get tickets for the theatre or ballet for travellers keen to entertain local contacts.

But for Ms. Dugga of Dukes, it is "service, service, service and a cozy bed with fabulous pillows and a good shower," she looks for when travelling. "Sometimes it's the simple things that make the difference."

The free conference venue finder and corporate business travel service offered by Well Placed Conference encompasses all the above points to ensure we offer a personal servcie to our clients giving them exactly what they want from their corporate hotel reservations

Source: Wall Street Journal

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