The Ever Evolving Business Traveler: Observations and Expectations

By Dawn Walzak First Vice President, Tishman Hotel Corporation | October 28, 2008

Times seemed much simpler 10 years ago when it was easier to predict what the business and leisure traveler expected. Today, hoteliers not only deal with the changing face of the traveler but with the amount of knowledge they educate themselves with prior to arrival. In today's world there is no longer an uneducated traveler. I jokingly state to my associates that this began with the launch of USA Today and it becoming one of the most read newspapers by travelers.

It appears that the "Battle of the Beds" was just the start for the industry. Looking back to the first launch of the Heavenly Bed it seems like such a simple, yet brilliant idea. Determining what guest need and what they want is a challenge but it will set you apart from competitors - you have to be very unique and creative. While brand standards are a must, hotels must look at what they can do to create an emotional attachment with their individual guests. An excellent example of this is the boutique hotels in New York City. Typically, these hotels have small guest rooms, tiny bathrooms, no health clubs and limited food and beverage. Yet they are in such high demand major brands are developing their own visions to mirror these hotels. A large part of the success of these boutique hotels is that they provide an "untraditional" hotel experience creating fun and unique stays that are constantly evolving. The associates that work at these hotels are the very heart of these entrepreneurial establishments. While Tishman Hotel Corporation was managing several boutique hotels in New York, the management team had great fun testing new items with very successful results.

The average Generation X traveler checking into your hotel wants a true retreat. Being able to multi-task is key to these individuals who expect guestrooms to evolve as they do. The technology component offered at hotels must be flawless and state-of-the-art. The multi-media experience is an area that is going to change dramatically. Marriott has already announced their plans to put high definition televisions in all full service hotels. Not only do travelers expect modern televisions but request amenities that are available in most households. For example, if a guest can "TIVO" a television program at home they should have that same capability in their luxury hotel. The current television programming offered will need to be expanded. The basic cable package currently available will not be acceptable and the in-room movie program as it currently exists will become obsolete. I would not be surprised if we are able to switch to a Web-based movie selection system in the future. Sound systems in guest rooms will need to be dramatically upgraded as well. Hilton has already announced guests can use iPod's with new in-room sound systems. With one simple initiative, they have appealed to every consumer who owns an iPod and customized their travel experience.

The food and beverage experience will also continue to evolve. A trend we have already witnessed is having a Starbucks Coffee or other specialty coffee store located on property, in addition to offering Starbucks within the hotel. The next phase is to offer healthy prepared meals on the go since airlines have reduced all in-flight meals. Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Hotel is ahead of the curve by offering Fresh-to-Go, freshly prepared meals in a self-service store adjacent to the front desk. According to Kit Pappas, general manager of Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Hotel, feedback from all market segments has been outstanding. "Guests are so time starved they want to eat healthy and quickly. Our concept allows both the leisure or business traveler an opportunity to grab an item and go. Whether it is a family looking for milk for a child or a weary business executive arriving late and wanting a salad, Fresh-to-Go offers a solution." Expectations for in-room dining are also increasing. To answer this demand, the Marriott Warner Center in Woodland Hills, California is rolling out an in-room sommelier program whereby the server suggests wine pairings. While this innovative program increases revenues, it was developed with the specific intention, to add value to a guest's experience.

Service is a major issue for these types of travelers. Anything less than perfect is not an option. These guests are more vocal than ever and will share their overall travel experiences with their colleagues. For example, when a guests' mini bar is not being replenished during a three-night stay or a wake-up call is not delivered, a negative perception will result. Not only Generation-X travelers, but all travelers hold the hospitality industry to higher standards especially since air travel has become such a burden. When guests arrive at the front desk they can express a sigh of relief and begin their experience.

As I researched this article, I asked numerous people what they believed would be necessities in both the short and long term in meeting today's travelers expectations. One insight I received that came as a shock from a road warrior was, " With all of the technology being developed, why do I still have to hear hotel doors slamming in the middle of the night waking me up." This is a valid point that has not been addressed. All facets of the way hotels provide their experience must be analyzed. Ask not only your best clients, but also your competitors' best clients what they would like and expect from your establishment. Marketing to these individuals will need to be one-on-one and directly speak to their needs and desires. Again I will reiterate, travelers absorb everything and make each experience a personal one. Pay attention to your guest satisfaction surveys. A true destination experience will be required that is unique in each city. The true style and design of a hotel should carry through in every guest contact point. The room service menu in New York should not be the same as in Atlanta. The paradigm is changing and will remain in a state of change for quite a long time.

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