One of my big challenges when traveling by motorcycle is over packing. I'm constantly paring down my gear and equipment, trying to get it down to the essentials. The thought recently occurred to me - why not reverse engineer the packing process? Instead of figuring out what I don't need and getting rid of the extras, let's figure out what I absolutely do need, and build up from there. Here's my list of five pieces of gear that no traveling motorcyclist should be without.
Some day, your motorcycle is going to break down. You're going to try to start your bike, and it's not going to work. You'll try everything you know how to do, starting with the simple and obvious steps and progressing to the more complicated, and it's still not going to work. You need a motorcycle mechanic.
The easiest thing to do is to call the dealer where you bought the bike in the first place. But that's not always practical, nor is it the only option. Before you blindly hand your pride and joy over to a dealership wrench, take some time to discover whether or not it's the best way to go.
I bought a new helmet this winter. To save money, I bought a plain, solid colored lid. While shopping for my helmet, I noticed that race replica or decorated helmets of the same helmet were 20%, 30%, even 50% more expensive than a solid, single color version. They may have been way cooler than my boring new helmet, but the more expensive versions offered zero improvement in safety, comfort or functionality. I decided to go for the best helmet with the least expensive cosmetic treatment. I will personalize it and make it cool ‒ and I'll still save money over the fancy factory versions.
Last week, I had my first encounter with personal watercraft when I traveled to Duck Key, Florida to ride the new Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310LX.
I'm fascinated by anything that has wheels and a motor, but I've never been much of a watersports guy. My father had a small powerboat when I was a kid, but switched to sailboats soon after. I was always welcome to ride along on his boat, but it was always work to ride on a sailboat is to crew, and I never found it all that relaxing or fun.
The Harley-Davidson Owners Group (H.O.G.) celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year, and it looks like Year 31 is going to be even more active. H.O.G. Rallies are the major events for most chapters. Did you know that as a national H.O.G. member, you are welcome to attend any of the state rallies across the country? You could plan a tour that takes you to more than one rally, and really make a trip of it.
January's almost over, which mean riding season is approaching again, quickly. I've put together a list of some of the significant motorcycle event around the country to help you plan out some trips now! Visit BestWestern.com to start booking hotel rooms before it's too late.
If you've ever wanted to own a motorcycle fit for the Pope, your opportunity approaches. On February 6, 2014, Bonhams will handle the sale of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Papal provenance at auction at their event at the Grand Palais in Paris.
After Pope Francis blessed a gathering of 800 motorcycles as part of the celebration of the Motor Company's 110th Anniversary in St. Peter's Square on June 16, 2013, Harley-Davidson presented the Pope with a motorcycle jacket and a pair of its motorcycles. One of those bikes, a 2013 FXDC Dyna Super Glide Custom 110th Anniversary Edition, will be auctioned off to benefit the charity Caritas Roma. According to the listing in the Bonhams auction online catalog, "the funds raised by the sale will go to Caritas' Don Luigi di Liegro hostel and soup kitchen at Rome's Temini railway station."
Winter is planning time for motorcyclists. We spend time working on our bikes, reliving past adventures, and planning future trips. I've spent some time searching around for smartphone apps that I'll actually use when I travel on my motorcycle. Actually, they would come in handy for car travel, too, if I ever do any. Here are a few I'll be trying out this year:
I entered this year in motorcycling with a few simple goals: ride further, ride longer. I achieved both, and I had a fantastic time. I rode some great bikes, I saw some amazing sights, and I met some fantastic people. All along the way, I stayed in Best Western Hotels. I was consistently delighted with the comfort, cleanliness and friendliness that I discovered along the way. The rides were great; the hotels enhanced the experience. Some of my favorite human encounters were with the folks who work behind the desks of the hotels. They spend all day meeting and greeting travelers, and turn out to be great resources for local information, stories and lore. If you don't spend a few minutes chatting with the desk clerk in Ely, Nevada or Caldwell, Ohio or Garberville, California, you're missing out on the spice of travel. The real adventure isn't on the road, it's in the stops.
Looking back over a great year, I can pick out a few highlights.
This is the article I dread writing every year, because it means that riding season is nearly over for the year in most of the country.
That's right – it's time to prepare your bike for its winter rest.
Spend an afternoon doing this correctly, and you'll be able to avoid an even worse dread – the springtime ritual of trying to get your bike started again, and correcting all of the flaws that neglect caused over the winter months.
Here's a step-by-step guide for preparing your bike for winter storage.
As I tumbled down the freeway behind my sliding motorcycle, my helmet banged against the cement. My jacket skidded, my gloves slid. My pants and my boots skimmed the surface. When I was able to glimpse the bike ahead of me, I saw showers of sparks and tufts of flame. I was in serious trouble, but I was surprisingly calm.
Finally, I came to a rest in the number two lane. I jumped to my feet, adrenaline pumping through my system. "Get out of traffic," my brain said to my body. I looked to my left, made sure I was clear, and ran to the median to assess the damage. Nothing seemed seriously hurt -- yet. My left ankle was a little wonky, and my left thigh was going to be sore. But as I looked up and down my body, I was relieved to discover that there was no blood, and as far as I could tell, no broken bones. I had just survived a motorcycle accident on a Los Angeles freeway at over 50 miles per hour.
I love motorcycle travel. Not just for the riding. The riding is a given. And not just for the destinations. I love motorcycle travel because I get to meet the most interesting people, and the fact that I'm traveling on a bike opens up great conversations.
This morning, I met Shyam Patel, who is the Manager of the BEST WESTERN Topaz Lake Inn. Shyam is not a motorcyclist, but he could be a traveling motorcyclist's best friend. He knows the roads and attractions in his area like the back of his hand, and he loves talking about routes and day trips. He says that motorcyclists are among his best customers, and he'd love to see more bikes at his hotel. The BEST WESTERN Topaz Lake Inn is perfectly situated for great motorcycling, right on the Nevada/California border, south of Lake Tahoe and north of Death Valley. Some of the best roads in the United States are just minutes away from Topaz Lake, fantastic mountain twisties through the eastern part of the Sierra Mountain Range. Shyam can suggest a myriad of routes, from short loops to long, and his enthusiasm is contagious.
Back in 1986, Life magazine called US-50 "The Loneliest Road in America," and rather than feeling insulted, Nevada took it as a rallying cry. Today, I'm going to ride most of the lonely road as I depart Eureka and head to Topaz Lake.
I stoke the fire with a free breakfast in the lobby at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Eureka Inn. I slept really well last night, exhausted after a long day yesterday. I remembered to drink plenty of water before going to bed. In the high desert climate, it's easy to become dehydrated overnight, even in an air conditioned hotel room. I've found that if I don't drink plenty of water when I'm above 6,000 ft, I wake up every hour, and in the morning, I'm not rested. I feel great this morning, and ready to ride.
I'm up early this morning. I think it's the elevation -- Ely is at 6,437 feet above sea level, higher than Denver, Colorado. The air is thinner, and it can definitely have an effect on you. It does on me, anyway.
I have a great chat with Larry and Brenda, the BEST WESTERN Park Vue Motel's managers, while I eat breakfast in the lobby. Larry is a real character. He wouldn't be out of place in any Old West scenario you could imagine. He's a wiry guy with long grey hair and a quick wit, and Brenda, his wife of 27 years, is his laconic foil. They tell me all about Ely, and what a great place it is to live. Larry came to town to work on the construction of the nearby prison -- his specialty was as a carpenter, hanging doors. The town has gone through a number of booms and busts, with the mining of minerals and precious metals from the rich earth in the area. When a mine hits big, the town flourishes; when the vein is depleted, the town sinks back into its doldrums. From the look of things, Ely is in a bit of a slump right now, with a lot of businesses and properties sporting "For Sale" signs. Larry is positive that things are about to turn around again, as a local mine is on the verge of a hot streak.
A good night's sleep. That's what we all really want, and need. I got one last night, at the BEST WESTERN Pahrump Station. Now I'm ready to ride into the high desert in Nevada -- right after I eat a free hot breakfast in the hotel's Draft Picks Sports Lounge.
Yesterday, I rode from my home in Los Angeles to Pahrump, a distance of about 315 miles, on a 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited. I've been looking forward to this ride for weeks, because the new Electra Glide really is new. It's a product of Harley's Project Rushmore, an initiative that the Motor Company just unveiled this fall. As a result of extensive customer research, the entire touring lineup has been redesigned, with the biggest changes coming to the top of the line Electra Glide Limited. The batwing fairing has been reshaped, and ventilation has been added below the windshield. New gauges, and a new Boom! audio system with a color screen and GPS navigation now lives in the dashboard, incorporating Bluetooth audio, a USB input and a 12-volt power port. The bike's ergonomics have been subtly improved, with revised geometry and a more comfortable seat.
I get it. Really, I do. I should clarify my position: I love movies, all movies — almost as much as I love motorcycles. Sometimes, I prefer a bad movie to a good movie. When I'm flying on a plane, or stuck in a bus or in a waiting room, I don't want to watch a good movie. I don't want to waste it. A good movie deserves to be enjoyed on a good screen, with decent sound and without distractions. A bad movie is a distraction.
I love bike shows. I can't help it — I love to ride, and I love my bike, but I really love looking at new bikes. So holiday season for me is bike show season. And the biggest of them all, the one that travels across the country, is the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.
When I travel from Best Western hotel to Best Western hotel on a Harley-Davidson, I like to bring my own entertainment with me. I load a few movies into the iPad, and then when I get to my room, I'm not bound by what's on the local television -- I've got a film festival right there in my hands. And when I'm done with a day of riding, I like to watch motorcycle movies.
There have been some great motorcycle movies over the past 100 years. By motorcycle movies, I mean a movie that features a lead or significant character who rides a motorcycle, and motorcycles are a big part of the scenery and/or plot. For some reason, I'm fascinated by -- and attracted to -- the worst motorcycle movies.
There's a little bit of a chill in the air. Thoughts turn to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's beyond. For many of us, that means putting the motorcycle away for the season, and counting the long nights until it's time to ride again. There's still one big riding event before it's time to huddle up with our parts catalogs, and that's Biketoberfest.
Held every year since 1992 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Biketoberfest is a weekend of riding, parties, music, food and vendor fairs, all directed at motorcyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts. The 21st annual Biketoberfest will be held from October 17 - 20, 2013. Events take place in and around Daytona Beach, and all throughout Volusia County.
Manny, my Harley-Davidson Sportster, just spent a couple of weeks resting in a warehouse. I had to leave him behind when I picked up a mega scooter that I was testing for another website. The motorcycle company's headquarters were located about 50 miles from my home, so I rode Manny down and rode the mega scooter home. Then I spent two weeks testing the new bike -- a 650 cc step-through scooter with an automatic transmission -- around town, on the freeways, and on the back roads near my home.
Guess what? I didn't hate riding that scooter. I wasn't self-conscious in the least. I wasn't embarrassed to be seen on a scooter. I was just thrilled to be riding on two wheels.
It's hard to believe that 1983 was thirty years ago, but it was. Let's face it.
Back in '83, Harley-Davidson created one of the most successful marketing schemes in history, founding the Harley Owners Group. H-D had always had a very loyal following, and in the early 1980s, that following was perhaps the brand's greatest asset. The previous decade had been tumultuous for the Motor Company. In 1969, H-D merged with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF), a company best known as a bowling equipment manufacturer. In 1981, a group of 13 Harley executives banded together and bought H-D from its parent company. 1983 brought two significant events that helped sustain Harley until the Evolution engine was ready in 1984: A U.S. government tariff on Japanese motorcycles over 700 cc; and the birth of H.O.G.
Some people have the shopping gene, some don't. It crosses gender lines, age lines, and all ethnic lines. You either enjoy shopping, or you don't.
I have the shopping gene, but mine is mutated. I love shopping for motorcycles, parts and accessories. Without even meaning to, I find myself idly leafing through parts catalogs, haunting Craig's List, trolling eBay Motors and checking prices at Kelley Blue Book. I'm not actively in the market for anything -- I just can't help shopping. Not buying. Shopping.
In all of the excitement of the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary, it was almost possible to miss the really big news from the Motor Company. The 2014 Harley-Davidson lineup has been announced, and eight of the new bikes benefit from an initiative that has been named "Project RUSHMORE."
Project RUSHMORE is the largest scale new model launch in H-D's history. The project "encompasses eight new motorcycles that feature improved and braking performance, enhanced rider ergonomics, and dramatic styling updates that completely redefine and fundamentally transform the touring motorcyclist's experience," according to the company.
More rain. That's the forecast for today. I don't mind. I've got some cool destinations today, and several of them are indoors. The temperature is scheduled to be moderate, in the low 80s, and though the rain will be constant, it should be light. No problem.
Breakfast for the BEST WESTERN PLUS Caldwell Inn is over at Lori's Family Restaurant, which is fine by me. I wolf down a portion of sausage and eggs, washed down with a few cups of hot coffee and I'm fueled up for the ride. I check out of the hotel, load up the Blue Glide, and ride out into the misty rain.
I wake up in my beautiful room in the BEST WESTERN Mariemont Inn with the great realization that I have a day ahead where the agenda is simply to ride. No appointments, no landmarks -- just me, some great roads, and another Best Western Hotel at the end of the day. I'm completely relaxed, at ease and in the zone. This is what motorcycle travel is all about.
I dawdle a little bit over breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, the National Exemplar. I study my maps, and contemplate the weather. Maybe if I wait another half hour, the rain will pass. But the longer I wait, the warmer the air temperature gets. I'd better saddle up and ride.
Which would you rather be -- wet or hot? How about both at the same time? That seems to be my option today in Central Ohio.
I think about the state of affairs as I have some sausage and eggs in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN Richland Inn-Mansfield. A hearty hot breakfast always helps me to sort things out. My original plan was to return to Mid-Ohio and watch some of the final day of the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days activities. If the weather was a bit more pleasant, that's exactly what I would do. But the weather is horrible -- heavy rain and temperatures predicted to rise into the 90s by noon. It's going to be another muddy trudge at the race course. I check the weather prediction on my iPhone, studying the Doppler radar map like a meteorologist. It looks like I can expect clearing to the south. So, I'm heading south.
I wake up to the sound of rain pattering against the window of my room at the BEST WESTERN Richland Inn-Mansfield. Uh-oh. I get geared up and head to the hotel's breakfast room, where a hearty buffet is on display. I weave my way through the pipeline workers, load up a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage, and find an empty table where I can figure out my day's plans.
I'm headed to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days. It's only about 8 miles west of the hotel, a quick 15-minute ride in perfect conditions. But conditions are far from perfect. The forecast calls for heavy rain, occasional thunderstorms and overcast conditions all day, and temperatures in the 90s. I make a mental note to stay hydrated today, promising myself that I'll drink water at every opportunity.
Ohio is the "Birthplace of Aviation," but I'm having a hard time getting there by plane to begin my motorcycle ride.
I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in plenty of time to make my direct flight to Cleveland, scheduled to depart at 6:02 am. It's now 9:00 am, and we still haven't departed. We've loaded on to the plane, then back off of the plane again. Mechanical issues. I'm beginning to get concerned about schedule. When I land in Cleveland, I have to take a cab across town to Avon, a western suburb of the city, in order to pick up my bike for the week at Lake Erie Harley-Davidson. The dealership is scheduled to close at 6:00 pm, and if my flight gets delayed much further, I may not make it there in time. My carefully planned itinerary will fall apart before I even hit the ground in Ohio.
In case you've not noticed yet, business travel has really taken off this year. You can see it in the packed planes-- when was the last time you had an empty seat next to you? The frequent hotel sell-outs-- how many times have you been turned away from your favorite Best Western? The traffic. And of course, the rising prices?
I live in Southern California for a reason: Year-round motorcycle riding. Pretty much any day that I've got the notion, I can hop on my motorcycle, and the weather will accommodate.
Folks in Minneapolis don't have that option. Most riders reluctantly admit that they get between six and seven months per year of good riding conditions. Sure, there are the extreme riders who make a point of putting spikes on their tires and riding across the ice in the dead of winter, but those guys are the exception that proves the rule.
To help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Best Western's pioneering I Care Clean program, I worked with travel expert John DiScala (aka JohnnyJet) on a Twitter chat devoted to the subject of Hotel Hygiene.
The popular chat drew thousands of tweets (and retweets!) and resulted in some great tips from experts and frequent travelers for staying clean when staying at hotels.
Like many things in life, it's really difficult to understand something until you actually experience it for yourself. One of those things happened for me last week when for the first time in my life I had a chance to spend the day behind the wheel, on the track with Budds' BMW at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for their annual Driver Development Day.
I've been thinking about buying a new motorcycle recently. Actually, I've been thinking about buying an old motorcycle.
When I go on motorcycle trips, I almost always wind up renting a bike from Harley-Davidson Authorized Rentals. My bike Manny is a 1993 Sportster, which is great for quick solo blasts around town, but not really conducive to two-up riding. I've been looking for a bike that would entice my wife to ride along with me, and maybe even a bike that would be fun for my dogs.
Business travelers are becoming more and more mobile. Increasingly, they are un-tethered to strict rules about how much time they spend at headquarters.
As a matter of fact, many frequent-traveling executives may not even have permanent office space at all any more, as the trend toward "hoteling" office space becomes even more widespread. (Office hoteling refers to the practice of providing office space to employees on an as needed rather than on the traditional constantly reserved space.)
Election-year uncertainty and a weak US economy combined with higher gasoline prices, airfare and hotel rates have not deterred American travelers this summer, and healthy demand should carry on into the fall months.
This year, the fall travel season begins just after Labor Day (Monday, September 3) and extends through mid-November when demand begins to rise in anticipation of a relatively early Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 22).
Most studies show that between 80% and 90% of business travelers now carry smart phones. While these slick new devices are certainly "smart," using them overseas can be very expensive. If you worry that it might cost you a fortune to turn your phone in other countries, here are some tips that should help ease your mind...and your travel budget:
I'm going to stick with the hotel wi-fi theme introduced in a previous post this month because there's a new study that shows just how important this issue has become to business travelers around the world.
It's not just Americans who need a high-speed internet fix when traveling on business or vacation. Some 95% of respondents in a recent survey among business travelers from Europe and the Middle East admit to taking their mobile devices on vacation for work as well as personal use. More than half (56%) of respondents said that they used their mobile device for accessing work e-mail or downloading work documents when on vacation-- an increase over last year's figure of 48 percent.
It's more likely than not that the business traveler you are seated next to on the plane, or bumping elbows with at the hotel breakfast bar works for a small or medium sized company. And it's likely you'll see more of this kind of traveler out and about in the coming year, according to a new survey from American Airlines.
In a June survey of 1,100 of travel managers at small and medium sized companies, 71% said that the economic outlook for their firms should improve in the next 12-18 months. Despite the current mixed data about the state of the US economy, 86% of these companies expect their travel to increase up to 24% over the next year. A very optimistic 6% anticipate an increase of more than 25%.
Hotel wi-fi has been in the news a lot lately-- for example, a recent and widely read article in USA Today suggested that some of the biggest hotel chains in the US are now considering adding new charges for in-room wi-fi.
But few hotels that have offered wi-fi for free in the past are now charging for it. Instead, they are moving to a tiered offering.
Rapidly falling gasoline prices are prompting Americans to cast away their economic fears and hit the road on vacation this summer... in droves! As a matter of fact, advance bookings for trips from June through August at Best Western are up a whopping 22% compared to this time last year.
Across the US, gas prices are tumbling. Remember back in April when the price per gallon neared the psychological limit of $4? Everyone was predicting that it could reach $5 by the peak summer driving season...
In 2011, spending on business travel continued to grow as the economy began a slow climb out of recession. As usual, most of our travel budgets were gobbled up by airfare and lodging costs.
In the US, airfare rose about 7% and hotel costs rose about 4% compared to 2010 according to Concur, which helped large companies process about $50 billion in travel and entertainment expenses last year.
Is web-based technology such as video conferencing replacing business travel?
Well, you would have thought so in the deepest, darkest days of the recent "great recession." Remember the media frenzy surrounding business travel boondoggles and the so-called "AIG effect" when many observers predicted the demise of business travel as we knew it?
It's no secret that most of Best Western's best customers commute to work-- either across town or across their state or region. In a recent survey, 63 percent of Best Western Diamond 100 members revealed that they drive instead of fly on nearly all their business trips.
With that in mind, the infographic below provides an interesting snapshot of what too much driving can do to us.
For example, research shows that couples in which one partner commutes for more than 45 minutes each day are 40% likelier to divorce!
One of the age old debates for people choosing a hotel has been whether service or price was more important and to what degree. The "luxury" hotels polarized those who were willing to shell out lots of money to get a premium service experience, while budget conscious travellers chose to forego extra amenities to save money.
Although there is still that divide, the Hotel Association of Canada's recent Travel Intentions Study confirms that most travellers now want the best of both worlds.
Travellers expect or at least place significant importance on a number of amenities and services but at the same time are not prepared to break the bank to get them.
Here are a few of the results that illustrate this:
You ever have the moment when you're sorting through multiple e-mails or print-outs of your flight info, hotel booking and rental car receipt and kick yourself for not just writing down the pertinent info on one document? You can't tell me I'm the only one, and nothing raises my blood pressure like making sure I get everything together in the 10 minutes before I leave for the airport. Luckily for people like me there are on-line travel organizers like TripIt and BESTWESTERN TO GO! to use as my own personal assistant. Whenever I forward my e-mail confirmations from hotels, rental car companies, airlines and restaurants these tools keep me organized and on-track.
Here's the third in my series on the issue of "frequent travel guilt." I'm writing these posts in response to a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers where 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work. Most say that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
While my previous posts about travel guilt have focused on what frequent travelers can do to make life better for family members left behind, this post focuses on the opposite--what a stay-at-home spouse can do to spruce up the business traveler's less-than-glam on-the-road existence.
I have just finished reading, "Advancing the Issues," the annual report that is produced by The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). My good friend, Tony Pollard, who happens to be the President of the HAC sent me my advanced copy. This report has become THE barometer for travel intentions from Canadians from both a leisure and business travel perspective.
Each year in January the HAC get survey responses from approximately 1,500 Canadians and compare their intentions going all the way back to 2006.
Here are a few of the key highlights from this years report:
Here's the second in my series on the issue of "frequent travel guilt." I'm writing these posts in response to a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers where 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work. Most say that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
Does this sound familiar? If so, stay tuned to my posts this month, all of which will delve into the problems and solutions around "frequent travel guilt."
In a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers, 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work--with most saying that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
Does this sound familiar? If so, stay tuned to my posts this month, all of which will delve into the problems and solutions around "frequent travel guilt."
With the economy, the temperature and the price of gasoline on the rise, business and leisure travelers should prepare for larger crowds and higher prices during the peak spring break travel season. This year, the peak spring break travel season begins on March 5 and lasts until about April 10.
To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning trips in March or early April should make reservations as soon as possible--especially if you are headed to popular spring break destinations such as Florida and other destinations along the Gulf Coast.
Earlier this month the Conference Board of Canada and The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) released their annual co-branded Canadian Business Travel Outlook Report, which takes a look at corporate travel expectations.
The study, now in its 5th year takes a cross section of companies within Canada who have an annual travel budget that exceeds one million dollars.
Three key findings jumped out at me and I wanted to try elaborate and share my opinion about what the impact will be on you if they are indeed accurate.
Best Western has launched a fantastic new program called "Business Advantage" which is aimed at small and medium (or SME) companies in Canada. I will get into the details shortly, but before I do, I wanted to share a few staggering numbers that jumped out at me as I started to dig into this SME group.
Industry Canada defines SME's as those companies that employ less than 500 people. To my astonishment that includes a whopping 80 to 90% of all companies in Canada. Stats Canada goes on to tell us that this group makes up 64% of the total private sector workforce, which is 6.8 million employees in Canada.
Did you know that small businesses employ more than half of all US workers? These all-American companies are poised to hire even more as economic and employment trends in the US begin to brighten.
For example, medium-sized businesses added 72,000 new jobs in January, and small businesses added an astonishing 95,000 new employees, according to new data from ADP, a payroll processing company. In the same month, large companies in the US added only 3,000 jobs.
Winter is here, forcing many of us into close quarters with others in planes, trains and automobiles. Unfortunately, cold and flu viruses come along for the ride, and end up infecting a significant number of travellers. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Nearly every frequent traveler has heard that the most handled thing in a hotel room is the TV remote, right? Starting this year, one of the first things you'll notice when you walk in your room at a Best Western is the new "fresh remote"--which has been specially sanitized by housekeepers, then slipped into a hygienic wrap. This is part of Best Western's new "Extreme Clean" campaign that you'll be hearing more about in coming months.
Happy New Year! We were lucky enough to ring in the New Year in style in beautiful Scottsdale, Ariz. We had two weeks of the most consistently amazing weather you can imagine. It also was the longest period of time I have avoided some form of precipitation! I found it uncanny to check the long range weather forecast on my iPhone and see a beaming sun icon with zero percent chance of rain---day after day! What do weather forecasters actually do in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area?
I've gazed into my crystal ball, and here's what I'm looking forward to in 2012 on the business travel front:
1 - With the US economy improving slowly, I expect to see equally slow growth when it comes to corporate travel budgets--so don't expect your company to loosen the reins any time soon. The good news is that I don't think we will see as many budget cuts and controls as we've seen in recent years. Midscale hotels like Best Western that include extras like breakfast, wi-fi and parking along with a reasonable rate will continue to be a travel budget's best friend.
On day one of our two week winter vacation, we joined the growing group of Canadians who call Buffalo-Niagara International their home airport.
My anecdotal research, which relies on a visual scan of license plates in the long-term parking lot, confirms the more sophisticated research the Hotel Association of Canada has conducted. According to its studies, upwards of 20 percent of passengers who depart from Buffalo are Canadians.
'Tis the season for resolutions and predictions. As many of you know, I love to keep up-to-date with the latest statistics and travel trend data from the experts. Well this year, I thought I'd develop my own predictions. Looking ahead to 2012, here are my five travel predictions for the year ahead:
Best Western's best customers tend to drive on business trips much more often than they fly, so this post should make them (and their loved ones) happy.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roadway fatalities and injuries fell to their lowest rates...ever... in 2010. The record-breaking decline occurred even as Americans drove nearly 3 trillion miles last year.
NHTSA says that the improvement is a result of three key factors:
With airlines cutting back or cutting out service to smaller towns across the US, it's increasingly likely that business travelers will be picking up rental cars at major airports, and then driving to small town destinations. While rental car prices are expected to remain relatively flat in the coming year due to increased competition, it's still smart to shop around for the best rate. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Have you ever wondered how your fellow Americans feel about travel? Poll Position, a new company that conducts a wide variety of scientific polls, zeroed in on travel lately, and the results are interesting.
According to a recent poll of 1,179 registered voters, 74% said that they'd traveled outside the US while 22% said they had not. Those who classify themselves as "Independents" made up the largest group of international travelers, with 80% saying they have traveled outside the US. Republicans traveled outside the US in larger numbers, with 74% saying they've taken a trip outside the US compared to Democrats, among whom 68% said they'd traveled beyond borders.
I had a great conversation last night with a hockey teammate who is definitely what one would consider a "road warrior." He works in sales for a manufacturing company and spends more time in his car than anyone I know covering his territory of Ontario. In fact, he racks up nearly 40,000 kilometers every year working!
Last night I got the chance to probe him for some tips and tricks he deploys along his business travels. Here are some of his recommendations for anyone who is on the road often:
Best Western's most frequent guests spend days, weeks or months on the road, often leaving loved ones behind as they carve out a living in far-flung places.
With that in mind, I thought I'd share some tips and advice from consultants, authors (and frequent business travelers) Doug and Polly White on keeping the spark alive under the strain of a long distance relationship.
As we head deeper into fall and temperatures start to require a heavy jacket, many Canadians are planning their winter escape. For many of us, a week away on a tropical beach in the dead of winter makes the harsh weather somehow bearable.
I get asked all the time for tips to make this escape an even better experience, and for those who live more than an hour from the airport, I often suggest staying at a "stop-over" hotel. There are a number of reasons why you should consider this but the main reason is that either the outbound or return flight, or sometimes both, can have you at the airport very early in the morning. A "stop-over" hotel can help reduce stress, save you in tricky driving winter conditions and ultimately make your overall experience much better. Here are some things to consider when looking for a good play to stay:
All business is cyclical. You heard that in business school and see it in how your company's fortunes rise and fall in patterns over time.
The travel industry is no different. Throughout the year, there are predictable peaks and valleys in demand and pricing. Travelers who study them save the most money and have the most comfortable trips.
Last month the folks at Best Western challenged me to spend as many Best Western Rewards points as possible on a business trip. The idea behind the exercise was to illustrate just how diverse loyalty programs can be.
While most frequent travelers prefer to use points for free nights, there's a whole world of redemption opportunities out there -- just check the "spend points" tab on the Best Western Rewards website and you'll see what I mean. And if you are earning double rewards points this fall, it should be easier than ever.
Canadians just finished celebrating Thanksgiving on October10, and for most of the country, we did so in unseasonably warm weather. In fact, I read many accounts on Twitter of families, for the first time ever, having their big turkey dinners outside! I also observed that the weather acted as a catalyst for people to express what they are thankful for.
It also helped inspire this blog - my top five travel-related things that I am most thankful for this year:
Congrats to the Moak family, winners of the Best Western Michael Waltrip Fan Swap! They were able to travel with the Michael Waltrip Racing Team, have lunch with David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip, and may have even been the good luck for David to win the Richmond pole! Check out the video from their time with the team.
Ahh September, the traditional kick-off to peak business travel season. Road warriors everywhere can now reclaim their space at airports, on planes, on freeways and at hotels. But given recent fluctuations in financial markets and economic uncertainty . . . what is it going to be like out there over the next 4-6 months? Are travelers cutting back? Are fares and rates rising or falling?
One of the best things about living in Northern California is easy access to places like the Napa Valley and big name events like NASCAR races at the Infineon Raceway, located about 45 minutes north of San Francisco.
Best Western's most frequent guests spend a lot more time in cars than they do on planes. In a recent survey, 63 percent of members of the Best Western Diamond 100 advisory board said that nearly all of their business trips are road trips.
If you one of those road warriors who spend a lot of time behind the wheel and have been watching gas prices average nearly a dollar more than last year, this should be music to your ears.
The Global Business Travel Association has released the 2011 findings from its annual study of car rental, hotel and meal taxes in the top 50 U.S. travel destination cities- and the results might surprise you. For example, cities in Florida and California are cited as having the lowest taxes.
All taxes are not the same...some specifically target travelers, like Phoenix's $2.50 rental car fee that goes to the "Maricopa County Stadium for debt retirement." Or the 5% rental car tax imposed by San Antonio to fund "youth and amateur sports facilities."
When trying to understand or sell something to large and diverse groups, it's human nature to try and fit different types of people into neat categories or pigeonholes. Divide and conquer as they say.
Hoping to get a better grip on the large and fast growing population of business travelers, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently released a study identifying five segments of business travelers in the market today based on their travel goals, characteristics, technology usage and demographics:
Despite the economy hitting a "soft patch" in the recovery from the recent recession, business travel spending remained steady through the end of June, according to the Global Business Travel Association's latest Business Travel Quarterly Outlook.
Continued business travel spending suggests the U.S. economic recovery will march on and resist a backslide or double-dip recession despite setbacks like rising oil prices, natural disasters, slowing global growth, and shaky consumer confidence. GBTA points to strong corporate profits, pro-travel sentiment on the part of company management, growth in emerging countries and rising travel prices as indicators of continued growth.
As technology improves and state governments become more cash-strapped than ever, an increasing number of road warriors are getting caught speeding or running red lights by cameras instead of cops.
The problem for business travelers comes when their infraction happens in a faraway place. By the time they get home and get the camera-generated ticket in the mail, they are long gone and unlikely or willing to return to contest it. So they typically just pay up.
Best Western's most frequent guests drive much more often than they fly, putting thousands of miles on their cars each year. In a recent survey, 76 percent of Best Western Diamond 100 members reported that nearly all their business trips are taken primarily by car or truck. Sixty percent drive cars or trucks that are less than three years old, which means they are not only frequent drivers, but frequent buyers of cars.
Nobody likes to pay extra. Everybody hates that feeling of getting "ripped off."
That's one of the best things about Best Western...there are rarely any surprises at check out. That's because nearly anything "extra" a business traveler could need is usually included in the rate.
It's a different story with airlines. Over the last two or three years, they have changed their pricing model to offer basic air transportation only, then add on fees for what they feel are "extras." Their decision to adopt this new strategy has been a major factor in US airlines' profitability--additional revenue from fees amounted to nearly $6 billion in 2010.
If it feels like you've been paying more for your business trips this year, your feelings are right on.
As a matter of fact, average domestic airfares increased a steep 10 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year to $494 roundtrip, according to the latest American Express Business Travel Monitor. That's higher than the average $466 fare we were paying back in the first quarter of 2008 before the recession started.
This is a fantastic time of the year! The weather is finally seasonal again and warm, but most of Canada is still focused on the ice. As I write this the Vancouver Canucks are only two games away from hockey's greatest prize; Lord Stanley's Cup. The Canucks are celebrating their fortieth anniversary in style, winning the President's Trophy and now on the verge of the franchise's first Stanley Cup Championship.
We've all heard the warnings and the rumors over the years, hoping that they weren't true.
But this week an international panel of experts from the World Health Organization said that cell phone use could be linked to certain types of brain cancer. The announcement re-ignited a long brewing debate about the safety of the devices.
A new medical study by researchers at Columbia University that looks into the cardiovascular health of business travelers has been making the rounds in the media lately. The study examined data from the medical records of 13,057 employed patients engaged in a corporate wellness plan.
There's good news and bad news to report. First, the good news: Some business travel might be good for you. The study found that business travelers who are away from home between one and six nights per month are healthier and less likely to be obese than non-travelers.
The average price of one litre of regular unleaded gasoline in Toronto on October 25, 2010 was $1.04. Fast forward six months and that same litre is now $1.35. That's a whopping thirty percent increase!
Though there are many theories about why the price has risen so dramatically, relief does not appear to be in sight. In fact, prices are likely to rise as demand in North America tends to surge as more drivers hit the road in late spring and summer. The result is that we Canadians will be spending a lot more money at the pump. Gas prices will not only affect those who are driving, but fliers will also see the increase reflected in the cost of airfare. Either way, high gas prices means it will cost more to get to your destination.
Answer me this: Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between San Francisco and New York, which one would you take? What if a connecting flight option was thrown into the mix?
Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.
As a travel writer, I'm frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not. So let's examine these three types of flights to determine which one is best for you.
One of the most thought-provoking general sessions I attended last week at the Global Business Travel Association of Canada's (GBTA) annual conference was the Corporate Sustainability Challenge. The session was led by Steven Pacifico, manager of sustainability and stakeholder engagement for The Delphi Group.
In the last week of March, the newly branded Global Business Travel Association of Canada held their annual conference in Toronto. The event was sold out for months, and as one speaker noted in his address, they "did a good job dealing with all the scalpers trying to get in." Now THAT"s a hot ticket!
The mood was more optimistic than in recent history, and much of the discussion revolved around moving business forward, new and innovative approaches to business travel, environmental issues and price transparency. No one was predicting doom and gloom, which felt really good!
With winter blahs and collegiate spring break nearly behind us, it's time for frequent travelers to start contemplating late spring and summer trips. Here are some things to consider:
Airfare: There's no doubting that airfares are on the rise this year. Depending on whom you ask, average fares are up 10% to 20% over last year. This is due to three factors: rising demand, higher fuel costs, and a reduction in the number of seats flying.
Our youmustbetrippin.com blog scored another big hit in the mainstream media last week when the Washington Post Style section called to ask for advice on choosing luggage.
My advice? Don't skimp! Paying a premium for high quality, durable luggage is always worth the extra cost for a frequent traveler. That's because you use it nearly every week. It takes a beating. And it's something that you don't want to break down in the middle of a long trip. (Have you ever tried to maneuver a rollaboard with broken wheels or missing handle through an airport? Ever had your bag show up on the luggage carousel wrapped up in a large clear plastic bag because its zippers failed in the cargo hold?) Also, choose brands that offer strong warranties--many offer lifetime guarantees that will repair or replace broken bags.
If you are waiting and wondering if business travel prices might fall...you might be in for a long wait.
This week American Express released its latest Business Travel Monitor (BTM) report for 2010 showing that airfare continued to climb in 2010 and is just 6 percent shy of the airfare highs of 2008. Also, domestic hotel rates were steady overall in 2010 while reaching their highest levels all year in the fourth quarter of 2010.
The Hotel Association of Canada recently released the results of their annual travel intentions survey. Overall it indicates a very positive year ahead for both business and leisure travelers indicating that they will be on the road more this year than they were in 2010, and well ahead of 2009.
Bryson Forbes, our Canada travel expert, was the moderator of the Business Travel Summit in Canada for 2011. Check out the video to learn about what the panel of experts discussed and predicted for this year in travel.
I'll never forget how I learned about speed traps.
Our family was on the way from Atlanta to Florida in our new Chevrolet Caprice station wagon (yes, wood-paneled!) for spring break way back in the 60's or 70's. Back then there were long stretches where interstate freeways were still unfinished and motorists had to detour for miles on local roads.
I have the distinct pleasure to be able to call Tony Pollard (President of the Hotel Association of Canada) a friend. If there is one thing I know for sure Tony, it's that Tony is passionate about travel and government policy. If something is out of whack, he's a man that will let you know.
The link between the investments you make in people or equipment and the expansion of your business is pretty clear. But have you ever wondered about the return you get on your company's investment in travel?
The rosy outlook for business travel revealed late last year in our survey of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board is coming home to roost. We were right!
Growth in business travel spending is expected to increase five percent in 2011, in sharp contrast to the 14 percent drop in 2009, according to the National Business Travel Association's (NBTA) latest Business Travel Quarterly Outlook.
Based on surveys and interaction, I know most readers of this blog are not necessarily early adopters of technology. But even if you're just learning how to use a cell phone, you've no doubt heard the hype surrounding Apple's iPad.
Have you seen one yet? Maybe you've stepped into an Apple store to fiddle around with one? I did just that last spring and by the time my birthday rolled around in May, I received one as a gift. Now I'm one of the nearly eight million Americans toting around an iPad.
I used to think most business travelers flew to their meetings wearing trench coats and carrying briefcases. Since working with Best Western, I've learned that, in fact, more business travelers move about by car than by plane. That's definitely the case among the real road warriors who bed down at Best Western. In a recent survey of the chain's top business customers, 63 percent said that less than a quarter of their business trips involve air travel, with many saying they don't travel by air at all. Only 11 percent said "most" of their business trips involved air travel.
Contrary to what a lot of folks think, Best Western is not a franchise organization, but rather a membership organization of hotel owners from all over the world. Like the majority of its business traveling guests, these owners live in small towns and run or work for small- and medium-sized companies. In many cases, the manager of the hotel is also its owner and not an employee of a distant corporation.
Business travel price increases are holding steady, according to the latest American Express Business Travel Monitor. In the third quarter of 2010, year over year prices for both airfare and hotel increased.
Amex says airlines have been able to raise fares and maintain more financial stability mainly by constraining capacity. Domestic airfares in Q3 increased six percent year over year, while international fares climbed eight percent. Hotel rates across the U.S., meanwhile, increased just two percent on average in the third quarter compared to the same time last year.
Cities with the highest year-over-year hotel price increases include New York City, where rates are up 10 percent, as well as New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and San Francisco.
About this time of year, frequent and infrequent travelers alike are faced with the hassle, uncertainty and expense of checking bags for trips home for the holidays.
Most business travelers reading this rarely check bags when on the road for business, anyway. But for holiday trips home, bag contents frequently expand to include winter coats, formal wear, gifts and plenty of other extraneous items--especially if kids are involved.
Despite the dire warnings about a Thanksgiving travel meltdown, most of those hitting the roads and skies this year found smooth sailing. There were no major upsets at airport security, the weather cooperated and airlines and airports performed well. To the surprise of many, it all went off without a hitch.
Earlier this month, we asked a core group of Best Western's best customers about their outlook for business travel in 2011. Overall, these members of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100) see gradual improvement when it comes to trip volume, spending levels and economic recovery. This brighter outlook comes to light when we compared findings from a similar survey taken one year ago.
The below is the second in a two-part series that examines some key findings. Part one can be found here.
Earlier this month, we asked a core group of Best Western's best customers about their outlook for business travel in 2011. Overall, these members of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100) see gradual improvement when it comes to trip volume, spending levels and economic recovery. This brighter outlook comes to light when we compared findings from a similar survey taken one year ago.
The below is the first in a two-part series that examines some key findings. Come back next week for part two.
Time sure flies! I cannot believe we're already in November.
When the leaves are falling and the weather's cooling off, that means it's time to start plotting and planning for the peak Thanksgiving week. Whether you're hitting the road on business or for feast, here are some things you need to be considering now:
Every year at about this time, American Express releases its annual Business Travel Forecast for the coming year.
For 2011, it appears as though road warriors can expect more of what they experienced this year: rising prices.
Airlines have been slow to buy new aircraft or to pull many of them out of their desert parking lots, while the pipeline for new hotels has shrunk considerably. At the same time, demand for both air travel and hotels has increased rapidly, leading to higher prices.
Most frequent business travelers have packing down to a science. They almost always carry their bags on board and rarely consider checking them with airlines.
Cooler weather means bulkier clothing, and holiday travel usually involves bringing along family members who aren't as practiced in proper packing procedures. So the likelihood of checked luggage, a visit to the luggage carousel and pain of paying new airline fees could increase in the coming months.
Got a checked bag in your future? Then consider these tips:
Airline mergers have been in the news a lot lately. Over the last year, for example, we've witnessed a relatively smooth blending of Delta and Northwest. It was a long time coming, and it's got a long way to go, but United and Continental recently sealed the deal on their merger, as well.
Even low fare carriers are getting in on the act. Southwest recently announced it would absorb AirTran for $1.4 billion. Last year, Denver-based Frontier and Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines joined forces under the Frontier brand (which makes me happy because we'll keep seeing Frontier's classic animal photos on airplane tails!)
I'll never forget driving in the Caribbean on one of the first business trips of my career. It was insane. Every driver was out for him or herself, ignoring stop signs and painted lane separators. Drivers slowed down (but did not necessarily stop) for red lights.
I'm still amazed that I came out alive and with no wrecks. Not even a ding.
But you know what? I learned a lot about driving both offensively AND defensively, and it prepared me for living in San Francisco--a city which sits near the bottom of the list when it comes to safe driving.
In a recent poll of the Best Western Diamond 100 group, an ultra-elite group of the Best Western Rewards program members, we asked how likely it would be for members to combine business and leisure trips.
The response was split nearly right down the middle, but leaned toward more likely--54 percent said they'd be very or somewhat likely to combine business and leisure trips, while 46 percent said it would be less or not at all likely.
I discovered something new and exciting about Best Western when I was at the recent National Business Travel Association meeting. You'll undoubtedly hear more about this in the coming months, but I wanted to provide a heads up.
As summer winds down and the autumn season kicks into gear, business travelers will be sharing the road with fewer vacationers. Airlines and hotels are busy rolling out the fall deals and promotions, which means lower prices and some nice breathing room for travelers.
I had a great stay in a big, clean and comfy suite at the Best Western Downtown Inn & Suites, located about a mile from the convention center. (Stay tuned for one of my famous videos highlighting this property...)
Remember last Christmas when the "underwear bomber" almost brought down a jumbo jet over Detroit?
That prompted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to grab a big pile of federal stimulus money for about 150 more full body scanners -- you know, the ones that produce those controversial ghost-like images of travelers' bodies.
There are currently just over 100 of the so-called "advanced imaging units" in use at airports across the country, but TSA says that number will soar to around 500 by the end of this year-- with nearly 1,000 in place by the end of 2011. That means frequent travelers should expect to encounter more of them, and soon.
While much of the media focus remains on frequent flyers, the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT more frequent drivers out there. This is especially true among Best Western's very best customers-- members of a select group called the Diamond 100 (BWD100)--who have stayed at a Best Western at least 250 nights over the last five years.
Here's some more interesting information about how BWD100 members feel about all those road trips:
While much of the media focus remains on frequent flyers, the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT more frequent drivers out there. This is especially true among Best Western's very best customers--members of a select group called the Diamond 100 (BWD100)--who have stayed at a Best Western at least 250 nights over the last five years.
Despite the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, millions of business and vacation travelers are still expected to visit the region in coming months. If you're soon headed to the coastal regions of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana or Mississippi, here's some helpful information:
When the super-frequent travelers in this group talk, Best Western listens closely-- it's made up of nearly 400 Best Western Rewards member who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years.
When the super-frequent travelers in this group talk, Best Western listens closely--- it's made up of nearly 400 Best Western Rewards member who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years.
Two things jumped out to me as surprising findings:
With airlines and airports expected to be packed over the next few months, it may be the right time to consider taking to the highway instead of the skyway for summer travel plans.
I expect airline flights will be close to 100 percent full and airfares are up nearly 20 percent over last year according to Bing Travel. The good news is that gasoline prices are expected to remain right around $3 per gallon, so there's even more reason to stay grounded this summer.
In what appears to be the waning days of the current recession, the travel industry is finally moving toward consolidation, something that travel experts have been forecasting for years.
Recently, frequent travelers have seen Delta Air Lines merge with Northwest, Frontier merge with Midwest and the beginning of what looks like a United /Continental merger.
On the car rental front, we've recently watched Avis combine with Budget, Enterprise snap up National and Alamo, and most recently, Hertz announced its intention to buy Dollar-Thrifty for $1.2 billion. Last year, Hertz bought Advantage.
Earlier this month, I took a business trip to Asia and checked in at the new Best Western Shinjuku ASTINA Hotel in Tokyo. It's currently the only Best Western in town and offers a great value to travelers visiting one of the most expensive cities in the world.
A few unusual touches to check out in this video: Pajamas and buckwheat pillows, smoked trout and miso soup on the breakfast bar and heated toilet seats!
The older I get, the more I'm affected by jet lag which is not a good thing for someone who makes his living as a travel writer and consultant.
Over the years, I've tried every drug from Ambien to Xanax. I've gone the homeopathic route with various herbs, I've tried starving myself, I've avoided alcohol and of course, I've always kept myself hydrated.
I've tried sleeping with hotel room drapes open and taking long walks in the sunshine upon arrival. I've even tested an oversized visor with a battery-operated light under the bill that was supposed to offer some sort of "light therapy."
Earlier this month, I took a business trip to New York City where I hosted Best Western's Business Travel Summit, an annual event that brings travel industry execs and travel industry media together to network and discuss trends. I was also in the Big Apple to attend the Strategic Travel Symposium, which was organized by the National Business Travel Association.
Over the course of my three-day trip, I picked up a mountain of news and insight that might interest the readers of this blog. Here's a download:
Last Thursday, March 18th I was fortunate to have moderated an engaging and informative panel discussion on the state of the Canadian business travel. Best Western, the brain child of this event, pulled together marquee expert panellists with a full house of Canadian media including reporters from the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. The travel trade were well-represented with both Travel Press and Travelweek in attendance, as well. The stunning venue, on the 4th floor of the Toronto Board of Trade, allowed everyone to enjoy the day's bright sunshine which was more indicative of May than March.
By now everyone has heard the old adage that you don't save any money on gas by driving on the freeway with the air conditioner off and the windows down. (Having the windows down causes aerodynamic drag, which cancels out the effect of turning off the A/C.)
Since most readers of this blog do a lot of driving, I thought it might be time to put some other myths to rest.
First off, something we've probably all done recently due to the recent severe winter weather--the myth that you need to let your car engine warm up when it's cold outside.
Every year at about this time, the travel industry begins to shake off a long winter's nap. With daffodils and crocuses starting to peak through the slush, it's time for road warriors to prepare for the spring break onslaught.
Based on a miserably cold and wet winter across the country, I'm thinking pent-up demand and the magnetic force of the sun will combine to make this spring break a big one.
Here's what business travelers need to know over the next few weeks:
Two major earthquakes in the Americas in the last two months. Monster storms and flooding in Europe. A series of blizzards in the northeastern U.S. When many of these natural disasters struck, I was glad to be in my hometown.
But how would I have reacted if I were out on a business trip? Recent events have really made me wonder about this. If disaster struck in a town I was visiting, who or how would I call for help? How would I let my family back home know I was okay?
On the flipside, what if I'm on a business trip to New York when "the big one" hits my hometown of San Francisco? How would I know if my family was safe? If my house survived? If my pets were okay?
From now on, I'm going to be better about leaving tracks regarding my whereabouts and be more personally prepared. Here's what I'm doing:
Since the beginning of this year, there have been a lot hopeful murmurs about the return of business travel after a precipitous decline over the last two years.
Now we've got even more proof that business travelers--especially those from small and medium sized companies--are seeing growth opportunities and taking more trips.
Several times a year, I survey the Best Western Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100), a group of about 400 of Best Western's best customers who typically work for small or medium sized companies, or for themselves. They drive more often than they fly, and for the most part, they make their own travel decisions and rarely rely on travel agents or corporate travel managers.
Guess what? The outlook is brightening among this group of road warriors and many expect to travel more this year than last.
*Photo by Paramount Pictures.
Have you seen the movie "Up in the Air" yet? In case you've not heard or read about it, the Oscar-nominated film stars George Clooney playing the part of Ryan Bingham, a super-frequent business traveler dealing with the effects of his peripatetic lifestyle. Here's a great one-minute clip.
His quest to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles has gotten him plenty of perks, but it's clearly left him isolated from the real world and from real relationships.
Every frequent traveler will see a little bit of him or herself in the Bingham character. The scene in the movie that hit home most with me was when he returns "home" to his apartment after a long stint on the road. The place looks just like one of those new long-term apartment style hotels--sterile, boxy and cold.
I've been writing this blog for over a year now, and not a week goes by that I don't hear from a reader or see something online (or in person) that makes me think, "Wow, who'd have thought THAT was a Best Western!"
I remember the first time I pondered this "who'da thunk" phenomenon. I was walking in downtown San Francisco near Union Square in search of Millennium, an unusual high-end, white-tablecloth-and-wine-cellar yet vegetarian, restaurant. Where did I find it? In the lobby of the Best Western Hotel California. Who'da thunk a Best Western would house a world-class gourmet vegetarian restaurant where the least expensive entrèe starts at $22.50?
Like most of the readers of this blog, I spend a LOT of time behind the wheel. And like many of you, I think I'm a skilled, smart driver and aware of the driving laws in California--my home state--and elsewhere.
But here's something I did NOT know.
Nearly all 50 states have recently enacted "Move Over" laws to help save the lives of police officers and other roadside emergency personnel.
Last week, I was flipping through the newspaper and came across an article that caught my eye immediately because it referred to "road warriors."
As it turned out, the article was not about the kind of road warriors you read about here. Instead, it was about a new breed of young, homeless panhandlers, now referred to as "road warriors," who travel between West Coast cities with pit bulls in tow, causing trouble along the way.
Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the term "road warriors" and how its meaning has changed over the years.
Since the attempted bombing of Delta/Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, airport security has been turned on its head (once again). Here's what business travelers need to know about security before heading out on another flight:
Most increased security is on inbound-to-U.S. flights. The only changes you may notice for domestic U.S. flying are more frequent pat downs by TSA personnel as well as the possibility of random screenings of carry-on bags at the gate.
Flights inbound to the U.S. from the U.K. are currently restricted to a SINGLE carry-on that must conform to normal size standards (one bag only...which means purses or briefcases need to fit INSIDE carry-on bags.)
It seems like the entire country is covered in ice and snow as I write this. Despite the nasty weather, most road warriors still have to get out there and kick 2010 off to a busy start.
I'm not the go-to guy for this type of advice (I grew up in the South), so I went to the folks who run the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo. as well as AAA for some winter driving tips. Here's what they advised:
Regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally get to survey some of Best Western's very best customers, a group known as the "Best Western Diamond 100." These road warriors have spent the night at a Best Western at least 250 times in the last five years, so they know a thing or two about a thing or two. That's why I'm always so excited to get inside their heads when it comes to issues of importance to business travelers.
In late November, we queried the BWD100 regarding their feelings and experiences when it comes to hotel upgrades. Here's a distillation of their responses.
Upgrades don't come too frequently. 40 percent of the group said they only score them once or twice a year, but a lucky 25 percent said they get them five or more times per year. Only 18 percent said they never get them.
"I usually get good rooms but to get an upgrade, to a suite let's say, requires more then the kindness of the registration clerk. Different factors need to be put together including some luck," wrote one BWD100 member. Another added, "I was recently upgraded from a King business room to a King Business Suite with a separate bedroom. I would have loved to have my wife with me for this upgrade!"
It's no secret that Best Western's most frequent guests spend a lot more time in their cars than they do on airplanes. In a recent survey of participants in the Best Western Diamond 100 advisory board, 63 percent said that nearly all of their business trips are road trips.
That's why I've got two items for my blog this week--both about driving.
Last month I took a Tuesday evening flight to Atlanta and ended up arriving to my hotel at about 10:30 pm. Little did I know that the entire hotel lobby and many of the rooms were occupied by revelers attending Jezebel Magazine's raucous "Most Beautiful Atlantans" party.
After a five-hour flight from the West Coast, I was a rumpled mess in a sea of beautiful, well-dressed Atlantans. I felt like the only person in the hotel lobby without a Cosmopolitan cocktail in my hand. I was definitely the only one with a roller bag and a briefcase.
While there was certainly a lot to look at, I remember thinking to myself, "Man, if I had only known this party was going on, I would have booked the hotel across the street!" Luckily, the front desk clerk recognized my distress, and told me he'd moved me to a high and relatively unoccupied floor.
This made me think about other situations where I'd say, "If I had only..." when it comes to hotel stays. Hopefully you'll learn--as I did--how to avoid some snafus...
It's not very often that "Good Morning America" calls. So when producers contacted me last month to help them out with a segment about navigating airport security lines, I jumped at the chance.
As it turned out, the segment touched on two areas of interest for readers of this blog: getting through airport security lines AND driving in heavy road traffic.
My advice: Choose your security line carefully--try to avoid getting behind families with children, those with strollers or hard-to-remove lace-up shoes or boots. I also recommend staying away from international visitors holding foreign passports since they typically don't have the drill down like U.S.-based travelers and tend to slow down the lines.
The segment also helped road warriors answer an important question: Is it faster to stay in one lane during heavy freeway traffic or is it better to weave around slow movers in zigzag fashion? Check out the video to get the answer to that question!
I've been fortunate enough over the past few years to either travel on business for myself or tag along with my husband on his business trips which have taken us to places around the world I never thought I would see. I'm a lucky woman. My last trip for work to California had me thinking about how to combine a business trip with pleasure. It is one of those perks that make you feel like you've had an extra vacation added in to your year.
Trying to mix business travel with pleasure can be a tricky balancing act, but with some careful planning and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, I found it can be done.
It doesn't matter what city or country you're traveling to, plan ahead. When I find out what city or country I'm going to be traveling to, I spend some time online checking out the activities, events and local highlights that might be worth exploring. If I'm traveling to another country or even a different time zone, I try to arrive a day early just to get over jet lag, get some exercise and a good night's rest. You'll be amazed at how much better you'll feel and have a clear mind heading into your work week.
When it comes to my frequent traveling lifestyle, I've got long list of things to be thankful for at this time of year. Here goes:
Faster Flying: Last week, my flight from New York to San Francisco arrived one hour early! I thought the pilot was joking when he came on the P.A. to tell flight attendants to prepare the cabin for an early landing. Early arrivals (or just on-time arrivals) are increasingly common these days because over the last two years, major airlines have cut their capacity by 10 to 20 percent--and fewer flights mean less congestion. Recent monthly reports from the Department of Transportation show consistent improvements in on-time performance.
Lower prices: Nearly every travel expense is smaller this year than last. Gasoline is averaging about $2.65 this month--that's down about $.54 per gallon compared to this time last year, according to AAA. In addition, not only are holiday airfares down slightly compared to last year, but they're much cheaper for trips on non-peak days. (However, extra fees such as those for checking luggage are rising, but there's a bright side here, too--fewer checked bags means fewer lost or damaged ones.) Also, hotel rates are down about 10 percent compared to last year.
Now here's a dash of good news: 53 percent of consumers plan to spend as much or more on holiday gifts as they did last year, according the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Whether you're giving gifts or receiving them this year, here are four items sure to warm the cockles of any road warrior. (Me included!)
Home Monitoring Devices: This is so cool! While on the road, you can now view what's happening at home on your PDA with these new monitoring devices. Typical systems include small Web cameras and microphones placed around the home which are wirelessly connected to the Internet. Users get real-time streaming images sent to laptops or PDAs with high-speed wired or wireless connections. Costs vary based on individual requirements, but you can get a single Panasonic Network Video Camera for about $125.
You may not know this, but Best Western is not a franchising operation, but a membership organization. All Best Western hotels are independently owned, and owners opt to join Best Western as Members.
Every year several thousands of these Members gather with Best Western's top brass for a big powwow known as "Convention." Since many readers of this blog spend much of their lives at Best Western hotels, I thought they'd be interested in an outlook gathered from some of the most important speeches and presentations at the latest Convention held in Phoenix last month.
Enhancing Best Western Rewards® is a key initiative for 2010. Elite level members can expect more than just bonus points for each stay--you'll likely see more welcome gifts or room upgrades. Similar to what you saw this year, you can expect at least four big bonus point promotions in 2010. Plus, a new Best Western Rewards credit card will make it even easier to fatten your account balances.
Prognostication is a dangerous exercise, especially out here in the blogosphere where anything you publish can easily come back to haunt you. But as we enter the fourth quarter of a tough year, I'm going to stick my neck out and point to some positive things I see coming our way in the next year...
The rebound in business travel is going to be led by road warriors from small- and medium-sized companies. These "unmanaged" travelers are the folks who call their own shots when it comes to business travel and aren't bound by any corporate policies that may have hampered some of their "managed" traveler counterparts from getting out there and snagging new business this year. In a recent survey, nearly 80 percent of them said they'd be traveling as much or more this fall than last. I expect more of the same early next year. However, as the year progresses and the economy continues to warm up, those corporate policies will slowly melt away-- though it's going to take a while for things to return to "normal."
I've been waiting and wondering about this and now it looks like its time to bite the bullet and change my name.
My travel name, that is.
My travel name would be the name I use when I buy an airline ticket, make a hotel reservation, rent a car, travel to another country or sign up for a charge card or loyalty program.
Why go to the trouble? Because starting next year, a new federal initiative called Secure Flight will require that the name on the ID you use to check in at the airport EXACTLY matches the name on your airline ticket.
And since the name on my ticket should always match the name on my frequent flier account (to avoid missing out on miles), I'll have to change that.
As many readers of this blog know by now, I recently brought together a group of Best Western's most frequent guests to form the "Best Western Diamond 100." This advisory group consists of business travelers who have stayed with Best Western more than 250 nights over the last five years.
When we first reached out to this group, we expected that about 100 would agree to participate--hence the name Diamond "100." To our delight, nearly 400 road warriors signed up to share their thoughts and voice their opinions on a number of business travel-related topics important to them. This is indeed an excellent illustration of how loyal these folks are to the Best Western brand.
Speaking of loyalty, our most recent BWD100 survey examined members' feelings about frequent travel programs and revealed some interesting nuggets:
According to a market forecast from American Express, a sharp spike is expected in the amount Canadian businesses spend on travel next year. After what has been characterized as the "worst recessionary period in our history" travel and tourism in Canada is starting to see positive signs of recovery. The market forecast projects corporate Canada to increase its spend by 15 percent in 2010, far outpacing a miniscule 1 percent increase from the US and an expected further decline in Europe.
I can attest to the business travel market starting to turn. For the corporate agency I work at, September was the first month in 2009 we were back to pre-recessionary levels. I am cautious though about declaring the trouble completely over just yet. There are three things I am waiting to see before I ink my declaration:
I started wondering if things were on the mend in business travel when we completed our August survey of Best Western Diamond 100 members. As you may recall, it revealed that unmanaged business travelers expect to travel as much (68 percent) or more (11 percent) this autumn compared to the same time last year.
That sounded like pretty good news to me, and in my blog headline, I pondered whether unmanaged travelers (those who work for themselves or for small companies and call their own shots when it comes to travel) were going to be the ones to "lead the charge out of economic doldrums."
Now there's further evidence that travel demand might be on the rebound: In its Global Business Travel Forecast released last week, American Express said the decline in business travel demand may be bottoming out due in part to pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings.
If you think you're doing your company a favor by taking fewer business trips, you might want to think again. Evidence is emerging that you could actually be doing it harm.
U.S. companies could miss out on nearly $200 billion in profits this year because they have cut back on business travel too much, according to a recent study by IHS Global Insight.
Another study by Oxford Economics found that companies bring in about $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profit for every $1 spent on business travel. The research firm said that if a business cut out all travel, it would forfeit 17 percent of its profits in the first year, and those profits would likely not return for three years after business travel resumes.
I've always had the feeling that traveling and meeting face to face was crucial to my business, but this is the first time I've ever had that feeling quantified.
Here's an example of how this study applies to my own business travel...see if you can apply it to yours.
When it comes to planning a business trip, one of the constant questions we all ask ourselves is, "Is this trip going to be worth the cost?" To determine the return on your investment, you first need a good estimate on how much it will cost.
And that's not always so easy. But Uncle Sam is here to help.
Every three years at about this time, the U.S. General Services Administration publishes the per diem rates it uses to reimburse government employees or contractors traveling to thousands of U.S. cities. In 2010, most of the country will fall under a standard maximum per diem of $116 ($70 for lodging, $46 for meals and incidentals). But there are 400 non-standard areas that have per diems which are higher.
Best Western's most frequent guests are business travelers who drive more than they fly on business trips. As a matter of fact, 63 percent say that less than 10 percent of their business trips over the last year involved air travel.
So when I read about a fascinating recent study on traffic gridlock, I knew I had to pass along some key findings here. The National Traffic Scorecard was produced by INRIX, a company that provides traffic and navigation information for online traffic sites, and a provider of GPS devices that road warriors use every day.
After a period of decline due to the stagnating economy in 2008, traffic congestion was on the rise in the second quarter of 2009 due to signs of economic recovery and lower fuel prices. Delays due to federal stimulus package roadway construction projects are also contributing to an overall increase in congestion.
If you are wondering what's going to happen next in the big wonderful world of business travel, then the National Business Travel Association's annual convention is a must. Last week, nearly 6,000 professionals (including yours truly) showed up in San Diego to gather information, sell, check out the competition, attend educational sessions, network and enjoy what has to be one of the best cities on earth to be sent on a business trip.
Here is some of what I was hearing on the tradeshow floor:
Many of those who are planning to travel as much or more than last fall explained how business trips are an integral part of maintaining relationships. "In a down economy, it's worth the extra cost to get in front of my customers even more. My competitors are cutting back and I'm there to pick up the slack," said an employee of a Utah building products company. A BWD100 member from Seattle commented that while her business overall is down, "I still have to make the same number of trips to maintain relationships and business." Another member who works for an aerospace company in California stated, "My work has not been impacted by the recession and my travel schedule remains the same from month to month." Another member, speaking for many, commented, "We are watching our money, but so far, thank goodness, I am still traveling the same amount."
These are folks who drive more than they fly and they work for themselves or for small- or medium-sized companies. They call the shots and pick up the tab for their trips.
They don't normally stay at 4- or 5-star downtown hotels and they don't fly business class--or even fly that much at all. Furthermore, they rarely spend more than $100 per night for a hotel and they don't work for giant companies that manage their business trips. Few have access to video conferencing facilities and many don't even have a travel agent or an expense account to fall back on.
Among travel industry insiders, these types of people are known as an "unmanaged travelers" (as opposed to "managed travelers" whose large corporations dictate how business travel will be conducted).
But just how many unmanaged travelers are out there? That's a tough question to answer. So I called in an expert.
Did you know that business travelers use online video throughout the trip-planning process more than leisure travelers? 'Tis true according to a recent study by Google and OTX called "The Traveler's Road to Decision."
The study showed that about 60% of us road warriors access online video when thinking about taking a trip, when thinking about what kind of trip to take and when deciding on accommodations and transportation related to the trip.
So without further ado, here's my latest Youmustbetrippin.com video. It's only two and a half minutes, so please tune in and let me know what you think of the content and my still-budding video production skills!
Part of the art of successful business travel is maintaining the delicate balance between a healthy family/social life and the demands of the road. It's been interesting to witness how that balancing act has evolved and expanded in the Internet age.
When my first book 202 Tips Even the Best Business Travelers May Not Know was published in 1994, my advice for maintaining communication with family and friends was rudimentary. It included suggestions such as regularly scheduled check-in calls, sharing a room service meal with family and/or friends via speakerphone or faxing handwritten notes home.
Over the last few months, I've been working with Best Western on a project aimed at identifying trends, opinions and habits among its very best customers.
We wrangled this group together by emailing invitations to Best Western Rewards members who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years. Nearly 400 members agreed to participate in monthly surveys and other forms of outreach and research.
We just completed our first survey which illustrates just who Best Western's top customers really are. To me, this group represents the core of the North American business traveler population-- entrepreneurs or those employed by small- or medium-sized companies.... out there on the road, in their cars in small towns and rural areas, probably eating alone and spending nights in roadside hotels. They always keep a keen eye on saving money, getting the job done and then getting home.
Who are Best Westerns best customers? Here are some top-line survey results:
When or if companies loosen their purse strings and allow employees to attend meetings and conventions again, expect a lot less flash. And a lot more scrutiny.
Earlier this month, the Treasury Department published new rules around meetings and conventions for companies receiving TARP funds. The rules require TARP recipients to "eliminate excessive and luxury expenditures" for entertainment or events as defined by the Treasury Secretary.
But don't think for a minute that just because your company is not a TARP recipient, you won't be subject to the new rules.
Here we are in the midst of the peak summer travel season. Everywhere you go, people are talking travel. And not all the stories are positive.
As a matter of fact, mid-summer is the time of year when you can't escape the stories of airport strandings, oversold hotels, broken down rental cars or unexpected traffic jams. Everyone seems to have his or her own personal anecdote of travel misery that can out do anyone else's.
I've just returned from my first transcontinental flight equipped with in-flight Internet access.
And I loved it.
I loved being able to stay on top of my emails in real time during the 4-5 hour flight. No email box to clean up at the end of a long day in the air. I read The Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle online, even though I had a hard copy in my carry-on. I was able to track my flight on a flightstats.com map to verify which cities, rivers and mountain ranges we were flying over. I passed some time on Twitter and Facebook reviewing videos and photos with my family and friends.
Have you harnessed the power of the blogosphere to make life on the road better? If you're reading this blog, you're well on your way. If you'd like to dig in a little bit deeper, check out the following blogs that I read at least once a week to keep me abreast of what's happening in the big wide world of business travel. They can help you, too.
As I've said before, don't think for a minute that this summer is going to be much different from others when peak vacation kicks in later this month. Despite the struggling economy, millions of Americans will still be hitting the roads and skies this summer.
During the next three months, business travelers will be sharing their quarters with vacationers eager to have fun. While the latter is focused on the beach, the pool and the family, your focus will likely be on the deal you've got to clinch tomorrow, your important conference call or the speech you're about to give.
Some conferences are so much better than others and I've just returned from a zinger. The Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME) met in Las Vegas this week and I picked up several nifty nuggets of business travel intelligence that road warriors will see play out in this era of the "New Normal."
If I were not a travel writer, I'd be a food writer. My gastronomic passion is wide ranging...I'm fascinated at how eating at airports has evolved in recent years. I even frequently arrive early just to see what's on the menu. In-flight fare has never bothered me all that much and I enjoy the break from the monotony of a long flight.
I'm an arbiter of taste when it comes to the hotel breakfast buffet. I'm happy to know that May is National Hamburger month. I love judging the quality of the "krinkle kut" French fries and homemade pies at a roadside diner as much as the foie gras at the latest, greatest bistro in New York or Paris.
All of that brings me to this question: What are the best foods for business travelers? I've got some ideas, but would like to hear yours, too. Please post your favorites or comments below!
Every year at about this time travel prognosticators and pundits hit the airwaves with their forecasts for the approaching summer vacation season. It's usually a time when business travel is pushed off the air or to the back pages. Just because it's beach weather doesn't mean business travel stops. In fact, demand for business travel is just as high during the dog days of summer as it is at any other time of year.
Here's my take on how what's happening on the leisure side is going to affect your business travel in the coming months.
Due to the current, tough economic climate, U.S. companies canceled an estimated $1 billion worth of conferences in the first two months of this year and trimmed back on others, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.
I've created an two-minute video for this post illustrating how this trend is playing out at two hotels on the seaside golf course in the scenic central California coastal town of Half Moon Bay. (Let me know what you think about the video and if you'd like to see more videos included in the future! Quality will improve as time goes on...)
A perfectly planned business trip is sort of like a finely tuned watch. There are a lot of moving parts, but if one tiny pin or wheel stops working, the watch stops.
The same goes for a business trip. An unplanned traffic jam, a thunderstorm over the airport, a missed wake up call, and yes, even an outbreak of the swine flu can stop your trip in its tracks.
Sometimes travel glitches are no one's fault. That's when you've got to roll with the punches and make the best of a bad situation like everyone else. But at other times, it makes sense to write a letter and seek to resolve the issue when it's clear that someone has goofed up.
Do you think you've got a good case? Don't keep those feelings bottled up or start a negative word-of-mouth campaign. Write a letter and give the supplier the opportunity to make good. Here's some advice on writing that first email or letter:
So here we are. Six months since the bottom fell out of financial markets last October. Finally, the economy seems to be mimicking the spring season and producing tiny little green shoots of growth here and there.
This means that a lot of business travelers who may have been ordered by their companies to stay home and hunker down might be getting out and about for the first time this year in coming weeks.
A lot has changed in the last six months. Some observations from my recent trips and research:
Highway traffic is down slightly. While there are still bottlenecks during daily rush hours and before and after holiday weekends, the volume of cars on the road feels about right. Not too many cars. And not too few. There's no longer that rushed, panicked and packed scenario or rogue traffic jams most of us faced during this last "bubble."
Being mobile while on the road hasn't also been so easy.
At the turn of the 21st century, I was an early adopter of the Blackberry. Quite basic, it offered a black-and-white screen to display emails and the phone worked relatively well. I upgraded a few years later to a newer Blackberry that offered a color screen and showed "clipped" versions of Web pages.
But three years ago, I gave up on my Blackberry, and switched to a Nokia phone, as they were known to provide the best reception in areas with weak signals - which included my office. While it worked like a charm, it alas was not a Blackberry, and I missed the handy-dandy mobile access to my email, especially when on the road.
Earlier this week, I was in my car listening to the radio and an ad came on referencing the $1,350 tax credit available to Canadians against the cost of anything related to "home improvement." The Home Renovation Tax Credit is a key part of our economic stimulus plan to get Canadians spending in industries hurt during the downturn.
A few minutes later, I had one of those "a-ha" moments. Why not give taxpayers (both individual and corporate) a break against the cost of travel? This may seem a bit selfish coming from the guy who is a part owner of a travel agency group, but seriously, what would help kick-start the economy like people getting out flying, driving, eating in restaurants and staying in hotels?
As much as business travelers tug on one end of their travel dollars, suppliers are tugging just as much on the other. That means travelers need to be on the lookout for new fees. In a recent TripAdvisor poll of 5,000 travelers, 34 percent said they are facing more hidden fees than they did last year.
AIRLINES: By now, you've heard all about the nearly universal $15 fee for the first checked bag. But did you know that on most airlines, you now pay $150 to change your ticket...whether you bought it or redeemed frequent flyer miles for it? Here's a helpful chart from Kayak.com that should help you keep track.
...but the reality is that increasing business travel when other companies are cutting back creates an opportunity to poach business from competitors and snag new accounts.
Well, yes, according to the US Travel Association. Granted, this group's raison d'etre is to promote travel, but its mid-February survey of 401 execs at U.S. companies reveals a conflict.
About half of the respondents reported that their companies had recently cut back on business travel spending. But 82 percent agree that business travel is important to their ability to achieve positive results. And 81 percent believe that client contact is necessary during tough times.
I know there is a lot of angst, bickering and confusion about the recent passage of the federal stimulus package that will inject $800 billion into our sputtering economy.
But you know what? Those of us who spend much of our lives on the nation's highways are going to be some of the first to enjoy the results of this massive spending. Smoother, wider and more technologically advanced roads are just around the corner.
I'm picking up from last week's column where I shared some interesting snippets from a panel discussion I moderated at the recent Best Western Business Travel Summit in New York City.
Panelists included Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach at Southwest Airlines, George Zilvetti, VP at MasterCard who oversees business development and co-branding, and Best Western's Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales.
Here are some more nifty nuggets of knowledge I picked up from the panel and how they affect you:
If you've been following my blog, you know that I traveled to New
York last week to lead a panel discussion at the Best Western Business Travel Summit, saving at least 100 jobs in the process.
Now, I bet you're wondering what we covered in a our revealing conversation that included Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach for Southwest Airlines, George Zilvetti, VP at MasterCard who oversees business development and co-branding, and Best Western's Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales.
Here are some of the nifty nuggets of knowledge I picked up from the panel and how they will affect you:
How will the economy effect business travel in 2009? Who will benefit from the down turn in the economy? How can you find survive this new world of business travel? Listen to expert business traveler Chris McGinnis, lead a panel discussion of business travel industry insiders and learn what's in store for business travelers in the coming year.
Have you ever considered how many people you help remain employed when you hit the road?
Last week, I took a business trip to New York City to lead a panel discussion at Best Western's third annual Business Travel Summit. For the duration of my trip, the fate of President Obama's economic stimulus plan dominated the news. As I sat in my room at the Best Western Hospitality House, I pondered just how much my trip would help stimulate the economy and how many jobs I might be saving.
Here's what I came up with: In just a single day of travel, I helped preserve at least 33 jobs.
When American Express talks, the business travel community listens. Last week, the travel behemoth released a new study that details how companies are controlling travel costs in an economic downturn.
While the report was written for travel managers and procurement types, let me translate it into language road warriors will understand.
The report says that companies will be holding employees accountable. This means you are going to be getting plenty of edicts from management to cut your travel costs and if you don't, you'll be asked why. Your company is going to try and explain the financial implications of out-of-policy travel spending and will emphasize that the sacrifices you make on the road could help save your job.
It's the dead of winter with most of the U.S. under a deep freeze that seems to have no end (meteorologically and economically). So, let's talk about Hawaii.
Have you been earnestly earning your Best Western Rewards points in colder climes and dreaming about redeeming them somewhere warm and tropical? It so, set your sites on the Best Western Coconut Hotel in Waikiki where I cooled my heels last weekend. (Rooms here go for 36,000 Rewards points per night.)
There are, of course, hundreds of hotel choices in Honolulu and as a travel writer for the last 20 years, I've slept and schlepped my way through many of them. But when air fares from California to Hawaii plunged to less than $300 round trip this month, I decided to jump on the plane and try the Coconut. Wow, was I impressed. (I know, I know...I'm jaded due to my affiliation with Best Western, but if you check out user-generated reviews at sites such as tripadvisor.com, you'll see that I'm not alone in my praise for the place.)
As a travel writer, I've seen my share of presidential suites. I recently got a look at the $34,000/night, I.M. Pei-designed presidential suite atop the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. Wow.
Presidential suites are almost always big, dramatic--and dramatically expensive. So expensive, in fact, that most road warriors would never even consider them an option. But since we're all thinking "presidential" this week with the inauguration in Washington, D.C., it's worth re-examining the belief that presidential suites are in fact out of touch.
Actually, there are some situations where one of the largest and most prestigious rooms in a hotel makes perfect sense: a special occasion, a board meeting or when two or more employees are traveling together and entertaining clients. (For instance, I've seen presidential suites in Hong Kong used as mini-showrooms by apparel manufacturers meeting with buyers.) But the best way to see a presidential suite is on that very rare occasion when there are no more rooms left at the property and you get upgraded!
As the economy continues to slide, those words are increasingly used as part of the corporate clarion call to trim travel spending. No company or industry is exempt.
You'd think it was the end of business travel as we know it. But it doesn't have to be.
If you want to maintain the level of travel to which you have grown accustomed, it's time to burn off some of those miles and points to offset the cost of business travel.
With nearly every major hotel loyalty program offering gigantic bonuses this winter, you don't have to worry much about depleting your accounts.
For example, members of Best Western Rewards earn double points when they stay two nights, triple points when they stay three nights and quadruple points when they stay four nights now through February 14. (Details)
Hitting the road this month? I can't think of a better time to be traveling on business. Prices for anything travel-related are at historic lows. Families with kids are back in school and travel industry front-liners thankful to be employed during tough times are more accommodating than ever.
Here's what I mean:
We are paying about half as much for a gallon of gas as we were this time last year. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average price per gallon is now $1.68, down from about $3 in January 2008. The total cost to fill up my 15-gallon tank is now about $25; last summer I paid $60.
Airfares have sunk as fast as gasoline prices, especially into leisure-oriented markets like Florida, Colorado, California and Hawaii. However, new fees for things like checked bags or advance reservations for certain coach seats which were imposed last summer are here to stay, I'm afraid.
They say timing is everything, and that's especially true when it comes to saving money on business travel. Granted, many business travelers have little control over the timing of their trips. When clients (or your boss) call, you go. Period.
However, there are times when you can plan ahead. And if you travel during the following slower periods, you'll save big bucks over the coming year. So get out your 2009 calendar and consider hitting the road during the following slow periods:
January: After the holiday rush, demand for travel falls precipitously and so do prices. In the travel business, the two to three weeks after New Years are called "dead weeks," and you'll find deep discounts nearly everywhere. Warning: This is a time when many hotels schedule repairs and renovations, so be sure to ask for a room away from such activity when you check in.
I've had it with all the doom and gloom. It's the holidays. This should be a happy time. So with that in mind, let's focus on the silver lining surrounding all those dark economic clouds...
First off, if you are reading this blog, it's likely you are still employed and still have a travel budget. That's great news considering the current flurry of pink slips seems heavier than the season's first snow flurries.
Have you noticed that nearly everyone in the travel space seems to be in a better mood these days? I think this is because the pressure is off--- the decline in traveler volume means that everyone can sit back, take a breath, and remember that its not all about the number of heads in beds or butts in seats, but it's about customer service.
Every year at about this time, pundits and prognosticators produce their annual outlooks for the coming year. And since blogging is the newest form of punditry and prognostication, here's what your favorite business travel blogger is seeing in his crystal ball for 2009.
Lower prices: Declines in demand along with tanking jet fuel prices will result in some of the lowest airfares we have seen since 9/11. If you've got business trips scheduled for January, typically one of the slowest months of the year for travel, you'll enjoy astonishingly low airfares, hotel and rental car rates. If you're driving, gas prices will almost certainly stay below $2 per gallon until we see a light at the end of the tunnel for the economy.
The combined effect of the recent "fall-back" to standard time, dusk at 5 p.m. and two cross-country trips in the last month is forcing me to sharpen my sleeping skills. Over the years I've battled with bouts of insomnia that either come on or are exacerbated by my frequent traveling lifestyle. I know I'm not alone...if you talk to any group of road warriors long enough, you can easily elicit enough bleary-eyed tales to keep you awake for hours. Here are some of the ways I've learned to cope.
Your Own Alarm Clock: Pack a portable alarm clock or use the one on your mobile phone or PDA. Why? First, relying on a wake-up call from the hotel can add a layer of unnecessary stress. Second, you won't have to worry about whether or not you've correctly set those notoriously confusing and unfamiliar hotel room alarm clocks. (Note to self: Always be sure the alarm clock is set to "off," so it does not go off in the middle of the night. Can't figure out how to do that? Just unplug it.)
Here it is Thanksgiving week. Despite all the gloom and doom these days, there is still plenty for business travelers to be thankful for. Here are three things for which I'm grateful. Check them out and then please click on the comments button and tell me what YOU are thankful for when it comes to life on the road....
Lower gas prices. After a summer of discontent at the pump where I cringed each time it cost $60 to fill up my car, gas prices have crashed, and now stand at less than $2 per gallon on average. They've not been that low since early 2005. You should have seen me beam last week when the nozzle popped and the tank was full at $31!
I'm guilty of it. Aren't we all? Its 11 pm, you've just checked into the hotel after a long day of travel, and the only thing you want to do is crash. But you have to check your email. So, instead of paying an outrageous fee for 3 minutes of Internet service you squat in the hotel lobby and mooch the free Internet.
I've done it more than I can count; and every time I end up wondering, "If it's free in the lobby, why isn't it free 12 floors above when I'm in my own room?"
Hotel WiFi can be one of the most frustrating aspects of traveling. The rate gouging, weak signals, port changing, and the time restrictions have always left me scratching my head. I put together a short list for Hotel WiFi Survival:
After a year of watching the economy cool off and wondering how--or if--it would force changes in business travel, I've got my answer. Big changes are on the way. Companies worried about the future are clearly cutting back on the number trips they are willing to authorize and they are cutting costs on the ones still allowed.
Just this week, the National Business Travel Association, a trade organization based in Washington, D.C. predicted that cost cutting measures will continue well into 2009 as a result of the economic slowdown. It expects business travel costs to increase and the number of business trips to grow at a slower rate than in previous years. "Across the board, we can expect to see some changes in the way travel is managed to further maximize value," said the group's president in a recent press release. In addition, the Airlines Reporting Corp this week said total U.S. travel agency transactions in October fell by 15 percent year over year.
Ready for takeoff? Not quite...usually there is a layover, delay or extra security line to make some airport visits longer than your time spent on the actual plane. Recently I spent a distressed 3 hours in the Fort Lauderdale airport with a dead laptop battery and zero luck finding an available or functioning power outlet. It made me start to log in my head my favorite and most dreaded airports to travel through while on business. Here is what I jotted down on paper during my three hour wait. I'm sure there are lots of airport tips and recommendations to share...so let us know what your favorite airport for business travel is and why. Note I left off most of the mother-ship airports like JFK and LAX because they often frustrate me more than they provide ease of travel. Here are the airports that were on my list:
TAMPA INTERNATIONAL (TPA) Access to Gates/Planes - Tampa's airport has a clever system of unmanned trains that take you to a pod with a cluster of departing gates, so you never really have to walk that much. But beware if you are in a mad dash to catch a flight, waiting for the next train may end up with you seeing the plane door close without you on the inside.
Nearly everyone has a morning routine when it comes to coffee. And that routine is always thrown out of whack when you hit the road on a business trip.
When I wake up at home, I'm in the kitchen within five minutes performing a precise coffee-making ritual. And it always comes out just the way I like it. Dark roast, ground fine and dripped through a cone filter into a large mug. About a tablespoon of half and half to cut the heat and the acid. No sugar. Don't mess with my ritual!
But out on the road, it's tough. In-room coffee rarely hits the spot. To me, it's always too weak, and there's no half and half--only that fake-tasting powder. I'll drink it if I have to, or just to partially partake of my morning coffee-making ritual, but it's never as satisfying as home.
Laptops are to business travel as popcorn to movies....today most business travelers have them and frequently negotiate the ups and downs of traveling with them. There are a few tips to keep in mind if you are new to the laptop traveling business or maybe just need a refresher. When you get too comfortable, that's when things can happen. True confession time...I checked a laptop in my luggage on a transatlantic flight. I knew this was not recommended, but I had some unusual circumstances that made this necessary. I took some extra precautions in the packing (layers of bubble wrap and duck tape) but I have never talked to anyone or read anything that would recommend this practice. It worked out okay for me, but I was very nervous. And probably got lucky. Our luggage was new and when it arrived at the destination it looked like it had been dragged behind a car. I had a sick feeling that my laptop was going to be in multiple pieces inside. Luckily it had survived. But, I wouldn't take the chance again. Here are some other items to consider when traveling with your laptop.
A colleague of mine from Atlanta discovered this blog recently and sent me a query that I think bears repeating for everyone. Why? Because nearly every business traveler comes to San Francisco at least every few years for a meeting and for a good time...and good food. I can't think of any other business travel destination where there's more of a convergence of business and pleasure.
Here's the query: Hey Chris,
A good friend of mine has a conference in San Francisco shortly after Thanksgiving and I wondered if you might have a couple of restaurant recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She's staying by Union Square and loves cozy places that are good for people watching (not the uber-trendy snooty tube-top crowd type stuff). And feel free to toss in a couple divey or low-brow places, too.
When American Express talks, the business travel industry listens. Last week the travel behemoth released its outlook for 2009 and the news was not all bad. The average cost of a domestic business trip is expected to rise just 2.8 percent in 2009. After several years of trip cost increases two or three times that large, a bump of 2.8 percent seems mild, and even welcome given the state of the economy and dwindling travel budgets.
In last week's blog I wrote about how the nature of each business trip depends on a wide variety of factors and influences. But you know, business trips and business travelers are similar in a lot of ways, too.
Business travelers are by nature a generally optimistic, well-rounded bunch. Our employers would not send us out on the road if we weren't good at adapting to rapidly changing conditions, making great first impressions and keeping our minds open to new ideas and places. Another skill worth honing in a sputtering economy is the ability to find value on the road. Some business travelers are good at this while others might need a bit of practice and coaching. (Stay tuned to future blogs along these lines!)
So even though the economy is slowing, it's never going to stop. Business trips will still take place, but cost control will be a common mantra in coming months. Business travelers are going to have to cut back, cut down and cut out many of the perks we've grown accustomed to, no matter if we work for ourselves, at a small business or a large corporation.
QUESTION: If you are asked to cut back on your business travel spending, what's going to be the first thing to go? How can you shave costs and still be happy and productive on the road?
As far as I can there are like three REALLY portable endurance sports: swimming, running, and weight lifting. "Portable" means you can work-out almost anywhere without much gear. There are some great online tools to make your workout less logistically taxing while you're adventuring far from afield:
Some people can just go out and run, and some people need to plan a route and have tangible goal associated with their daily fitness adventure. For those who like to plan their route there is Google Pedometer where you can route plan your next road or trail run. If you are interested in a topographical profile view of your run check out this handy plugin to google maps, Path Profiler.
On a recent business trip to Chicago, I found myself with a free afternoon. Faced with the many offerings that Chicago has for visitors, I decided that with it being such a perfect autumn afternoon, a stroll down Michigan Avenue would be an ideal way to get my mind off of work.
Michigan Avenue, for those who haven't spent time in Chicago, is the city's epicenter for fashion and shopping. Dubbed the "Magnificent Mile", Michigan Avenue boasts everything from department stores to high-fashion boutiques and fine dining to a popcorn shop. It is truly one of the gems of Chicago for window shopping and people watching alike.
Back with another installment of Travel by Numbers, we take a walk down Michigan Avenue...
Having covered the business travel beat as a writer and consultant (and business traveler) for nearly twenty years, I'm constantly trying to predict the needs and desires of our tribe. Editors and clients are always asking me, "What do business travelers want?"
The answer never changes. And the answer is: It depends.
It depends on your employment. Are you self-employed and paying your travel expenses out of your own wallet? Or are you an employee or contractor to a corporation that allows you to toss everything on to an expense report for reimbursement? The former wants the best value possible and will take the time to find the smartest bargains; the latter will seek out comfort, convenience and of course, loyalty points.
While I've established my credentials as a road warrior (see previous post), you should know that I fly as much as I drive. And like every business traveler out there who has heard that U.S. airlines are cutting schedules, parking planes and raising fares, I'm concerned about the impact on my travel budget.
But beyond the screechy headlines predicting unbearably high fares and the end of air travel as we know it, I've determined not all that much is going to change for most business travelers.
Like most Americans, I'm lucky because nearly all my air travel is on high volume routes between major cities with plenty of low-fare competition. In markets like these, average fares have increased only about 10 percent over the last year. I'm even luckier that I live in a city that's a hub for a low-fare carrier (Virgin America) and has two airports served by low-fare leader Southwest Airlines (San Francisco and Oakland). Fares to and from the cities I fly to most (Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Las Vegas) have actually decreased year-over-year.
On most business trips I do what I'm told....I fly when the airline wants me to fly...I walk through the airport security magnetometer when and only when the TSA person tells me to...I stow my bag where the flight attendant tells me to...and I accept the rental car the agent decides to give me. Sound familiar?
Last month when my business trip to Houston was canceled due to Hurricane Ike (blowing a four-day hole in my calendar) I decided to jump in my car in San Francisco and head down to meet up with a client in Los Angeles-- 375 miles away.
I'm always up for a road trip. There's something I love about hitting the road with complete freedom ...leaving when I'm ready...stopping when I feel like it...taking in a little bit of local color or cuisine along the way...driving all night long listening to a new CD or audio book of my choice...Doing what I want to do. It's such a relief to feel in control on a trip instead of just doing what I'm told.
"A Stitch in Times Saves Nine". What, you ask, has this phrase got to do with Packing for Business Travel Emergencies? This old popular saying has many interpretations depending on who you ask and what your mother told you. My mother told me to plan ahead, be prepared for life's little emergencies and that led to my best tips for planning for the small emergencies that happen when you're on a business trip. A little pre-planning can go a long way to save a business meeting or a wasted business trip.
It can be super hard for me to motivate myself to go to the gym after I've been crammed into seat 32B or behind the wheel. This was definitely the case last week when I arrived late into the Best Western Hotel in Mountain View, California. I'd been driving all day and all I wanted to do was crash. But I knew I'd sleep better if I got the blood flowing and stretched. I needed a workout with dynamic movements to lengthen my body. I did two decent workouts in a hotel room and I wanted to share them with you in case you have the same sort of problem motivating as I do. Sometimes the only practical option is to get in a quick workout right in the hotel room, especially late at night.
Have I mentioned that I'm actually on a business trip in NYC?
Several months back I was invited to participate in a panel on leisure travel. Only a two-hour commitment? My hotel and airfare provided? I wondered, should I bring the kids and husband along for a long weekend in New York? Why not? I booked plane reservations for four.
My decision isn't unusual. According to the National Business Travel Association, 62 percent of U.S. business travelers said they add a leisure component to at least one business trip per year. Among those travelers, two-thirds say they bring a family member or a friend with them. Why? As the American workplace becomes more flexible about letting employees juggle their duties with family life, people like me are finding it easier to bring their spouses and kids wherever their jobs may take them. What's more, family business trips are a great way to save--since the company is usually paying for a few nights of the hotel and airfare for at least one.
I've spent a lot of time on the road, sometimes for adventure, sometimes for business. I've visited all 7 continents. I even visited the only continent where Best Western doesn't have a full fleet of hotels (Antarctica). One year I traveled so much that I actually spent 250 nights in hotels! One of my favorite parts of traveling is sampling the local cuisine. Sometimes I splurge (like chocolate mousse for breakfast in Paris), but more often than not I just want a healthy breakfast that will keep me going all day long. I put together a list of tips for all of you who are at the hotel continental breakfast bar wondering what is best to eat.
So next time you're on vacation don't let your nutrition go on vacation too. This list will help you decide what to eat and what to leave for the next guy.
Choose a whole grain cereal with low-fat milk (I like Cheerios in the morning). I avoid sugary muffins, sweet-rolls, and pre-sweetened cereal. High carbohydrate/sugar snacks such as these may improve my mood for a short time, but all that sugar makes me sleepy. Being sleepy is no good if you're the driver on a road trip or if you have a big day planned.
Load up on the fresh fruit for vitamins and fiber. The eggheads over at the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute recommend we increase our fiber intake to 25 grams per day. Most Americans eat about a third of this amount. This grim fact may in part be responsible for America's high rate of heart disease, colon cancer and obesity. These diseases are practically nonexistent in places with a high intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Try an apple and whole wheat toast for starters.
Yogurt or hard-boiled eggs are good sources of protein. Each has 5 grams of protein. Jimmy Dean sausage links have a bit more protein (7 grams) but also twice the saturated fat and twice the calories. My advice is to leave the links for the next guy (despite their yummy greasiness).
If you are on a weight-loss regimen, avoid the condiments altogether. Condiments such as cream cheese, butter, jelly, and peanut butter are high in all the bad calories that you want limit such as simple sugars and saturated fats. Breads taste just fine all by themselves when toasted; try it. I do this for a few weeks prior to road bike season and it shaves pounds very quickly without requiring me to change any of my other nutritional habits (and vices).
Bad news travels fast. You may have heard that with recent airline mergers, bankruptcies and the like, you probably will have to start paying more for your bags, tickets, micro-zipped saltine crackers, headphones, pillows (just make sure you have that 5 bucks handy for the oxygen mask if there is ever a sudden change in cabin pressure). For those traveling for business, this probably means longer lines, crowded flights, and dreaded delays. Welcome to summer airline travel in 2008.
In the spirit of defiant optimism, here are a few tips for business travelers in the brave new world:
Arrive at the airport a day early...you will definitely be on time for your flight.
Fed Ex your luggage to your hotel. At least you will have reliable tracking if it gets misplaced.
If possible, travel with work colleagues and hold meetings on the plane...you can get a lot done in four hours waiting on the tarmac.
For a smooth return trip, click your heels together 3 times and repeat, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home."
Just be grateful you aren't the guy who had to fly to his destination in the airplane lavatory.
Ensure you are never asked to stop for additional security checking by using your extraordinary psychic powers. Remember Obi-Wan, "these aren't the bags you're looking for."
What other off-beat ideas do you have to beat the summer travel frenzy? Let us know.
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