How airlines, hotels are expanding business travel programs

Hotels and airlines are working harder than ever to make business travelers more comfortable. Long flights and even longer work hours are stressful enough for travelers, so many airlines are doing what they can to make their journeys smoother, cheaper and healthier. Hotels are providing more wellness centers and more nutritious food options as business travel programs are continuing to expand at a rapid pace for consumers.

More bang for a company’s buck

Some airlines are reshaping how booking and seating is done for the convenience of business travelers and travel planners. Southwest Airlines, for example, is giving corporate travel managers more control over booking. The airline, which is famous for its all-coach seating and cheap prices, has revamped its online booking tool, SWABIZ, and has hired more account managers to take care of businesses. "Behind this galvanized effort, more than 59,000 Southwest Employees are all focused on bringing more Heart and Hospitality to thousands of businesses that put their trust in Southwest to connect their people to the places important to them,” Southwest’s President Tom Nealon says.

American Airlines announced it will increase staffing levels for its dedicated sales support team by 50% to provide even more personalized service for travel agency and corporate customers. “Expanding our dedicated Sales Support team will help us deliver a consistent customer experience to agencies and high-value customers who book through travel professionals,” says Alyssa Heath, director of sales support for American.

Additionally, Delta’s SkyBonus program and midsize corporate agreement are offering greater benefits, awards and discounts. Customers automatically receive priority status, and at no cost to a traveler, SkyMile points are available on every dollar spent on airfares and upgrades. Then there is United Airlines’ Propel program, which offers discounts to travelers ranging from 2% to 6% from the start, for companies that spend at least $250,000 a year.

More loyalty for loyalty members

Like major airlines, hotel brands are hard at work to increase offerings to travelers. Look no further than Best Western, which offers a 10% discount to loyalty members at all locations in North America. Typically, hotels offer discounts of 5% to 10% for loyalty members.

Holiday Inn and Marriott were the first hotels to provide guests with loyalty program options, starting in 1983. Hotels and businesses now know simply offering a loyalty program isn’t enough to gain participation. Studies have shown that social media is of major importance to customers and travelers nowadays, so businesses are working hard to build credibility online. A study from Oracle shows more than half of customers believe a positive social media presence is a must for a positive experience at hotels. “We recognize that word of mouth is the most powerful referral source and we are definitely enhancing our product on social media,” said Nicole Spaeth, director of marketing at My Place Hotels.

On social media, hotels are offering up more offers and opportunities for both past and potential customers. Sweepstakes and giveaways are becoming more common in business, and recently, My Place awarded 1 million free loyalty points to its members, in the hope of attracting new business.

Some hotels are striving to treat their customers with a more personal touch. “Business travelers also love the ability to create their own experiences, be that with amenity offerings or the check-in/check-out process,” says Robert Reitknecht, guest experience and customer loyalty expert.

“Efficient communication like text notifications to let them know when their room is ready is something that is particularly appreciated, given that they usually have a more rigorous schedule than leisure travelers,” Reitknechts says. He notes that other initiatives like business networking receptions are hot right now. “At the end of the day, we would ask ourselves, ‘Would we want someone we care about to go to this hotel for business travel?’”

Upping the food and wine selection

Hotels are starting to focus on the well-being of business travelers by ensuring flight itineraries aren't stressful and providing more exercise facilities and healthy food options. "The business travel industry is taking baby steps to incorporate more wellness, but there is a ton of room left for growth," says Sahara Rose De Vore, founder of Travel Coach Network.

Room service is often no longer the only available option for travelers. Now, they might even find themselves at hotels offering up wine tastings. “Creating a wine and food pairing event or promoting a grab-and-go Starbucks area outside of the restaurant are things I have noticed taking off lately,” Reitknecht says.

“The Courtyard by Marriott brand mastered this concept so well that other brands began looking at it,” he explains. “Fun events like wine tastings as well. With such a rigorous schedule, it’s important that hotels offer appealing incentives for business guests during their downtime. These guests usually don’t have a lot of time to go off-site, and so they’re looking for something enjoyable and interesting within proximity.”

The future of corporate travel

Business travelers are part of the overall travel trend toward wellness and constant reviews on social media. The industry is responding with better deals, more loyalty rewards and expanded wellness options for people who travel for business. Wooing corporate accounts will continue to be important for airlines and hotels alike, and social media will continue to be a key ingredient to winning business travelers.

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