Why the future looks good for business travel

The pleasure is all yours

Long-haul flights without a stopover, super-fast inflight wi-fi, opulent arrival lounges – business travellers have much to look forward to.

By Michael Gebicki

What’s next for the business traveller? How will we fly, stay, play and pay when we’re on the road in the months and years ahead?

Already digital wallets such as Apple Pay and MasterCard PayPass make it easier to track travel expenses, TripCase keeps your itinerary neat and tidy, Marriott Hotels’ mobile app streamlines check-in and check-out, while Starwood goes one better with a digital room key that you can download to your smartphone.

Beyond these conveniences, coming over the horizon are many other changes which promise to make travel faster as well as easier.

Movers and shakers

Welcome to a world of comfort in the Emirates Dubai lounge.The sharing economy is making inroads with business travellers, and there’s lots to like. Uber is often cheaper than taxis, nine times out of 10 you get a cleaner vehicle, you can track your approaching pick-up and maintain an electronic file that records when and where you went, how much you spent and your driver’s contact details – especially handy if you accidentally leave something in the vehicle. 

With Uber now legitimately able to collect passengers at some Australian airports, there’s even more reason to prefer the ride-share service, and business travellers are piling on board.

In the US, a SpendSmart Report published by Certify found that in the first quarter of 2016, 69 per cent of US business travellers who hailed their ride chose Uber, 27 per cent went with taxis and 4 per cent chose newcomer Lyft.

Meantime, Airbnb is wooing corporate travellers with its dedicated Airbnb for Business website. Despite some downsides – no loyalty points for Airbnb stays and no room service, gyms, spas or food and beverage outlets – Airbnb is finding traction with some business travellers looking to stay longer and cheaper, and in a more personalised environment with real character.

Further analysis by Certify found that in 2015, business spending on Airbnb grew 261 per cent in the US and 249 per cent overseas. The company has talked about business travel as a “huge opportunity”.

"There’s every chance you could be flying non-stop from east coast Australia to Europe before 2020."

Arrive in better shape

Swish business and first-class lounges are all very well pre-departure, but at the end of a long-haul flight, an arrivals lounge might be what you need. If your flight docks in the early morning and you need to be present and correct for a meeting, or if you can’t check into your hotel until early afternoon, an arrivals lounge offers a sanctuary where first-class and business passengers can freshen up with a shower, snacks and even a quick nap.

Arrival lounges are still thin on the ground, but they’re catching on. They tend to be located at the home port of major airlines – especially those looking to leave a memorable impression on their premium flyers. 

Cathay Pacific has The Arrival, located between terminals one and two of Hong Kong Airport, while Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Swiss International have their own arrival lounges in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul and Zurich airports respectively.

Setting the pace for the industry is the British Airways arrival lounge at Heathrow terminal 5, with a “hydrotherapy zone” offering a whopping 94 shower rooms, with a complimentary clothes pressing service while you shower. Ask for a cabana instead –they’re bigger and better equipped. There’s also an Elemis Spa for that top-to-toe refurbishment.

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Turbocharged wi-fi

High-speed inflight wi-fi is on the radar. Starting in 2017, Qantas plans to offer wi-fi at speeds up to 10 times current airline standards using National Broadband Network (NBN) satellites. According to Qantas, that will make it possible to stream video and other data-hungry feeds to your device and make VoIP phone calls.

However, the geo-stationary NBN satellites used by the system will limit the service to Qantas’ domestic flights. Meanwhile, British Airways will introduce high-speed wi-fi on many of its international flights from 2017, including Singapore and Sydney flights. Known as 2Ku, the technology leverages next-generation satellites to deliver data at speeds up to 70 Mbps. The service operator is Gogo, which cut its techno teeth delivering inflight broadband internet services to several US carriers.

Aircraft with longer legs

Current record holder for the world’s longest scheduled non-stop flight is Emirates’ Dubai to Auckland service, at 14,193km, aboard an Airbus A380. Lighter materials and more fuel-efficient engines will allow next-generation aircraft to fly even further. Boeing’s ultra long-range 777-8X, scheduled to enter service in 2018, will have a range of 17,600km, which raises some tantalising possibilities.

Melbourne to London is 16,900km, and the need for a comfortable safety margin might make that a stretch, even for the marathon legs of the new Boeing – but the Melbourne to Frankfurt distance is around 16,320km, and from Sydney it’s just 170km further. 

If the locus of European business and finance tilts from London to continental Europe in the wake of Brexit, there is every chance you could be flying non-stop from east coast Australia to Europe before 2020.

The bleisure trip

“Bleisure” is the new word for the leisure holiday that piggybacks on the business trip. Your work commitments finish up on a Friday, so why not take a slow road home, with the weekend and maybe a couple more days to relax before you’re back in the office? Maybe rendezvous with your partner somewhere warm and romantic? 

The bleisure phenomenon is taking off among business travellers looking to rebalance the work-life seesaw, as many rarely get to take their full holiday entitlement. According to industry surveys, the bleisure trip is most common among 45- to 54-year-olds, who say the prospect of a few days of recreational leave helps them work more effectively and takes some of the stress out of business travel.

Sweeter still, the leisure part of bleisure might come with a tax deductible component.

Read next: The 11-point checklist to de-hassle your travel

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September 2016
September 2016

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