Printer Friendly

GETTING DOW TO BUSINESS\Airlines, hotels court corporate travelers with office amenities.

Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer

Jorge Jackson is a man on the move.

Traveling an average of three days a week, he may spend today in Texas, Monday in Hawaii and Tuesday in Oregon. And, like many business travelers, he takes his work with him.

"I use my laptop computer on the plane," said Jackson, 51, of Sherman Oaks, director of public relations for GTE's western region, based in Thousand Oaks. "I answer all my phone messages at the airport. I try to stay at a hotel that has all the amenities - coffee shop, close to the main highway, an airport shuttle service, comfortable beds. With a personal computer and a cell phone, I work out of my room."

The executive is among millions of business people tapping away on laptop computers and making sales calls on their cellular phones while zooming from one city to another faster - and more frequently - than ever before.

To keep pace, many hotels are offering just-like-home-office business services. Airlines are offering business-class travel that includes cushy sleep-over seats, in-air phones and fax machines. One luxury cruise line has even installed business computer centers on two of its trans-Atlantic ships.

Some microchip gurus predicted that the computer revolution would make business travel all but unnecessary, but that's just not so, said Dexter Koehl, a spokesman for the Travel Industry of America.

"Business travel is just as important as it's ever been," Koehl said. "A lot of companies are cutting back, downsizing; white-collar middle-management has been reduced. But that means fewer people are doing more of the traveling, and they're usually top executives. Business travel just keeps going along, even with e-mail and teleconferencing."

According to the TIA, 38.4 million adults made a record 220 million business trips in 1995, Koehl said. Business travelers accounted for about 30 percent of all hotel guests in 1994, and 27 percent of U.S. travelers say they are likely to travel for business or convention purposes this spring, according to TIA surveys.

There was a brief dip in the growth of business travel in the early 1990s - from 199 million in 1989 to 183 million in 1990 to a low of 177 million in 1991 - attributed to a combination of recession, corporate downsizing and the growth of communications technology. But business travelers were soon on the road again, racking up nearly 211 million business trips by 1994, said the TIA.

And business travelers are demanding more and better services, according to a 1995 poll of 900 executives who travel frequently on business. Ninety percent of those interviewed said they pick an airline for safety and on-time departures, but nearly 40 percent said telephone, faxing and copying are desirable in-flight business services.

Jacqueline Anderson, 48, of Chatsworth, who travels three or four times a month as general manager of Medicare and federal employee programs for Blue Cross in Woodland Hills, said she always plans to get a lot of work done on a business trip.

"On the plane, I do a lot of reading, write letters and memos," Anderson said. "I take my laptop (computer) to be able to hook into the office so I can keep my electronic mail basket up-to-date and keep in touch with my staff."

Because comfort takes a back seat to cost, she flies coach rather than the more expensive business class. "But I'm glad when the seat next to me is empty so I can spread out my papers," she said.

For Jackson, comfort and relaxation on a plane can be just as important as handy business machines.

"I usually travel the cheapest way, but go business class for longer trips," the GTE executive said. "You need the bigger seats to sleep, especially if you need to land and go to a meeting right away."

Recognizing the importance of corporate travelers to their bottom line, hotels and airlines - and even cruise lines - are gearing up to attract folks who mean business.

American Airlines - which flew about 80 million people in 1995, about half of whom were business travelers - has spent $400 million upgrading its business class, spokesman Bill Dreslin said.

"If we're spending that kind of money, you know business travelers are a very, very important market for us," Dreslin said. "We're trying to get the loyalty of that repeat business."

Virtually all airlines offer business-class travelers priority boarding and baggage handling, more comfortable seats, better food and drinks. Some offer special perks - including free vacations - for frequent fliers who rack up many thousands of miles.

Both Qantas, which pioneered business class in 1979, and American Airlines offer business-class seating with a 50-inch "pitch" - 50 inches between the front of one seat and the back of the seat in front - for more comfort. Qantas also offers each business-class passenger an individual TV screen and VCR.

United Airlines has on-board phones that will receive as well as place calls and, when used with a modem and a laptop computer, will fax documents, said United spokeswoman Mary Jo Holland.

Qantas has not yet added in-air phones and faxes, but has concentrated instead on making business travelers comfortable on flights that can be as long as 14 or 15 hours, said Doug Fioresi, senior vice president for Qantas' American operations.

For international business travelers, American Airlines has built arrival lounges in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Paris, Frankfurt and Stockholm in which passengers can use private showers to freshen up after their trans-Atlantic flight. Business machines are also available.

"We deal with many people who are almost international commuters," America's Dreslin said.

Trans World Airlines, the largest airline that flies out of New York's JFK Airport to Europe, has priced its business-class flights cheaper than some of its competitors, hoping to build customer loyalty. And on domestic flights, business passengers who book flights that make connections in St. Louis - TWA's headquarters - get a free first-class upgrade for their entire journey, said TWA spokesman Mark Abels.

And the airline is working to equip its domestic flights with GTE phones on which passengers can receive, as well as make, business calls.

"When you get on the plane, you register with the system and you can get calls while you're in the air, just as if you were in your office," Abels said. About two-thirds of TWA's domestic planes have the phones, and about 1,300 calls are made daily using them, he said.

While most cruise ships offer phone and fax capability to those who mix business with pleasure, Cunard Lines has added a computer center equipped with 12 computers on the Queen Elizabeth 2 and a business center filled with word processors, copiers and faxes and staffed with clerical help aboard the Royal Viking Sun, said Peter Bates, senior vice president for worldwide marketing and sales.

"With laptop computers, today's business people are portable; they can go anywhere," Bates said. "And where better to work than on a five-day Atlantic crossing? You've got five days to sort everything out, get your preparations made, and you arrive ready for your business meetings with no jet lag whatsoever. And a ship is a very impressive place to entertain business clients: 'Come join me for lunch on the QE2.' "

Many hotels are also catering to the business traveler, but three national chains - Westin Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Hotels Corp. and Marriott - offer special rooms that double as an on-the-road office.

Marriott debuted its "Room That Works" for business guests in February 1995 at its Philadelphia hotel and has expanded the concept to 63 of its U.S. hotels. Available at no additional charge, the special guest rooms include a large console table and mobile writing desk, adjustable chair and lamp, two power outlets and a personal computer modem jack mounted in the console top.

"It's what the business traveler is screaming for," said Marriott spokesman Gordon Lambourne. "They're saying, 'I'm tired of having to spread out my papers on the bed." Printers or fax machines are available elsewhere in the hotel. By the end of this year, "The Room That Works" should be available in 250 Marriott hotels in the U.S. and along the Pacific Rim, Lambourne said.

Hilton conducted a two-month test last fall of the Hilton SmartDesk - full-size office desks equipped with personal computers, fax modem, combination printer/fax machine and copier, software and wiring for laptop computers - in 10 rooms in each of four of its hotels in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. And hotel officials say the office setup is a success.

Of 491 hotel guests who paid an additional $35 a night for SmartDesk-equipped rooms, 73 percent said they'd use them again if they could be assured SmartDesk rooms would be available in other cities, and 84 percent said they'd choose Hilton over other hotels because of the SmartDesk, said Bob Dirks, senior vice president of marketing for Hilton.

Hilton officials will meet this month to decide how to expand the business program to its nearly 200 other hotels. "It's only a question of how soon, how fast, we can do it," Dirks said.

Westin hotels, where business travelers account for about 35 percent of the chain's 8 million annual guests, charge guests an additional $20 per night for a "Guest Office" equipped with desk, multifunction laser printer/fax/copier, speakerphone, Macintosh and IBM-compatible printer cables and surge protector.

"We launched this last October as a direct response to customer input," said Westin's Pujalet. "They told us that they had to be more productive and they needed (business) tools that were available at a moment's notice."

As its hotels are renovated, Westin also plans to add the "Westin Room 2000," which will allow travelers to quickly transform their bed into a couch or convert a table into a desk.

The Renaissance Washington, D.C., Hotel recently became the first East Coast hotel to offer high-speed, direct access to the Internet. Bradley Edwards, the hotel's general manager, said the hotel has installed wiring so conventions and other large groups can access the Internet with their own computers or with computers rented from the hotel for teleconferencing, training sessions or meetings. Costs for the service will vary, but will be cheaper than if wiring had to be installed especially for individual groups, he said.

Hilton has installed videoconferencing equipment at eight of its hotels, linking audiences via live, dial-up telephone lines that allow face-to-face meetings between groups or individuals in different cities for training sessions, sales presentations, interviewing, new product introduction, legal depositions, news conferences, or to include a company executive who is unable to attend a meeting.

Even hotels that haven't embraced the office-in-the-room concept are making life easier for business travelers.

Many, like the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, have opened business centers, where travelers can meet with clients and have an on-duty clerical staff to help with photocopying, word processing, printing and facsimile transmissions. The Ritz-Carlton center also includes two IBM and Macintosh computer work stations with laser and color printer hookups, and provides personal computers, fax machines, typewriters, mobile telephones, digital pagers, computer hardware and microcassette recorders for rent to guests.

Innovations that make business travelers' lives easier and more productive are likely to continue, say industry sources.

After all, as Cunard's Bates puts it: "Business people are portable. They can go anywhere. We've just got to keep up with them."


DRAWING[ordinal indicator, masculine]PHOTO

Photo (1) Marriott's "Room That Works" gives business travelers most of the comforts of an office. (2) American Airlines is outfitting its international business class cabins with tiny VCRs like this one. Drawing No caption (Color--Business travelers on an airplane) Illustration by Jon Gerung/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 17, 1996
Previous Article:ADVENTURES IN THE COUPON TRADE\Shoppers save big bucks by swapping, redeeming cash substitute.

Related Articles
Courting the executive traveler.
Latin American journeys: business and leisure travel made easy. (Special Advertising Feature).
Award-winning JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City offers classic elegance to business travelers. (Special Advertising Feature).
Travel perks.
Frame a travel strategy: find the delicate balance between avoiding travel costs and keeping travelers productive.
Best of Latin American travel.
The new comfort of business travel.
Doubletree hotels.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters