As the number of small business owners, self-employed people and female business travellers surges, smart travel providers are tailoring their offerings to suit.
By Katrina Lobley
As CEO of the Australian Writers’ Centre
, Valerie Khoo spends much of her year flying between the centre’s bases in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, as well as to other cities to conduct training and give keynote speeches.
Ask the former PwC accountant what she really wants from a hotel on her frequent business trips, and her answer might surprise you.
“I look for a great executive lounge or club within the hotel because sometimes you’re tired and you don’t want to go looking for dinner at the end of the day,” she says. “These spaces have food, drinks, snacks and wi-fi – in other words, everything I need.”
One of her favourite lounges was in the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf (now the Pan Pacific Melbourne). “I then booked that level of room [which comes with lounge access] at the Hilton in Brisbane, but it was nowhere near as good,” she says.
She switched her hotel preference to Sofitel Brisbane Central, which boasts Queensland’s largest club lounge. It suits her so well that now she stays there even if the location isn’t as convenient to her meetings.
Khoo represents not one but two growing sectors in business travel: female travellers and small-business owners. It was a trend predicted by Amadeus IT Group, a global travel solutions provider, when it crunched its data to forecast what travel will look like in 2050 in the Asia-Pacific region. It noted that the numbers of self-employed people, small-business owners and women travellers were set to surge, and it’s these groups that smart travel providers are working hard to attract.
Savvy hotels use data to know their guests
AccorHotels Pacific, whose 200-plus properties include Khoo’s beloved Sofitel, is taking a data-led approach to satisfying the needs of different travellers, says COO Simon McGrath.
“We’re now in the second generation of catering to female travellers,” he says. “The first generation was probably five to seven years ago, with female floors, female rooms and female amenities. It didn’t have the take-up required and was probably over-targeted.
"What we now do – we’ve got 2.4 million loyalty members in Australia – is that we can tailor to their needs [using that data].”
AccorHotels captures data via its loyalty program, and also monitors social media channels for feedback.
“An example is we found out the other day that one of our customers had been to a conference on the Gold Coast and posted online she’d been sick and had done a tough day,” says McGrath. “We sent up a pot of lemon-scented tea, and face wash and amenities for her.”
However, identifying niche travellers, such as small-business owners, can be difficult, says McGrath, as they’re often “bleisure” travellers who mix business with pleasure.
“They’ll travel [for work] and have dinner with friends, or they’ll go to the spa the next day and then work in the afternoon. And they’ll equally be working on a Saturday or Sunday.”
Experimenting with facilities for women
In Japan, capsule hotels are famous as an affordable option catering to salarymen who have missed their last train home. Although capsule hotels may have areas exclusively for women, there has usually been a very male skew. This started to change in 2015, with the opening of Tokyo’s Centurion Cabin and Spa Ladies, a women-only capsule hotel with compartments barely bigger than a bed.
At Centurion, spaces include a widescreen TV and tablet, and guests can use the hotel’s public bath. In 2016, another women-only capsule hotel, Nadeshiko Hotel Shibuya, opened in Tokyo.
“… travellers are wanting more stimulating options than flopping onto their bed and watching the box.” David Fitzpatrick, UKO Co-Living
Elsewhere in Asia, some luxury hotels are experimenting with women-only facilities. In Dubai, the Dukes Dubai women-only floor has a private lift and a separate breakfast lounge. The JW Marriott in Singapore South Beach does not have a women-only floor, but offers a choice of ladies’ rooms with tailored amenities.
The Qliq Damansara in Petaling Jaya (close to Kuala Lumpur) also offers ladies’ rooms, which come with some privileges normally reserved for those staying in Club rooms.
New ways of working have an influence on business travel
The influence of co-working spaces, catering to entrepreneurs and freelancers, is stretching to the business travel scene. In Sydney, Vibe Hotel Rushcutters Bay hosts a TwoSpace co-working facility in its dining and bar space during the day. Also in Sydney, the team behind Veriu hotels is launching UKO Co-Living, which combines a traditional hotel with a co-working space.
The first of three UKO venues should open in Sydney’s Annandale in May 2018. It’s a concept inspired by Amsterdam’s Zoku hotel, which offers hybrid home-office/hotel rooms and communal spaces.
UKO’s general manager, David Fitzpatrick, says that after work, an onsite host can help solo travellers by organising anything from wine tasting to cook-ups and networking.
“At the end of a long day of work or meetings, travellers are wanting more stimulating options than flopping onto their bed and watching the box,” he says.
“With co-living, they have the option of using the communal space for a glass of wine, a meal or watching TV. UKO aims to bring people together.”
The co-working/co-living trend is growing. Co-working space 47 East in Quezon City in the Philippines has teamed with Solana Suites on its third floor for onsite accommodation. On Koh Lanta island, off Thailand’s west coast, the KoHub co-working venue also offers month-long apartment bookings.
In New York, you can spend the day at the Wall Street WeWork space, then head upstairs to stay at WeLive for a few days or a few months.
People travelling for work have different needs than tourists, and as business travellers themselves change, so will the places they stay.
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Flying high in middle class
For small-business owners lacking a budget for business-class flights, premium economy – that intermediate section between business and economy – has a lot of appeal. Premium economy offers more leg room and wider seats than the back end of the plane, and passengers enjoy priority check-in and a bigger baggage allowance than economy class. Add in a more sophisticated dining menu, and you can see how it makes for a more comfortable journey, without an eye-watering price-tag.
Air New Zealand was a premium economy pioneer, with Qantas following in 2008. Since then, premium economy offerings have snowballed. American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic all offer the intermediate class.
Singapore Airlines is now planning to halve the numbers of first-class seats on its Airbus A380 fleet, bumping up its premium economy and economy offering.
Still, it was Qantas’s premium economy offering that most wowed Skytrax judges last year. The prestigious Skytrax World Airline Awards named Qantas as having the world’s best premium economy class and premium economy seats for 2017, while Singapore Airlines won best premium economy onboard catering.
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