April 27 2009 by Chris McGinnis
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."
- Airline traffic is down and on-time performance is up as airlines have parked about 10% of their planes in the desert. On the downside, it's becoming increasingly difficult for business travelers to find reasonably priced, convenient, non-stop flights to or from medium- and small-sized cities where service has shrunk. This means more of us are returning to our cars for road trips.
- Airport security lines have largely disappeared due to decreasing passenger volume and better line management on the part of the TSA. Nearly all passengers get through security screening in less than 10 minutes these days. That's remarkable considering the endless lines and hassle factor we all experienced just two or three years ago.
- Hotels have re-discovered customer service. I more frequently get the feeling that the greeting at check in is heartfelt. My hotel room seems cleaner and it feels less like the housekeeper had to rush through the job. I'm finding more hotels that now offer free high-speed Internet access (a concept pioneered by Best Western way back in 2004). Hotel rates that had become exorbitantly high in cities like New York are reasonable again.
- On the downside, the rental car business is getting hit hard by tough times in the automobile industry. As a result, cash-strapped companies are holding on to their fleets longer so rental cars seem to be getting older at a time when rates are climbing.
What changes are YOU seeing out there on the road? Please share your thoughts and observations (in the comments boxes below) about recent changes in the business travel landscape. Thanks!