Today’s business traveller has changed – and hotels are evolving to keep up.
In today’s 24/7 world, where work time and leisure space can often blur into each other, the life of the contemporary business traveller has a very different structure from the corporate voyagers of yesteryear. The 1990s traveller might have eaten breakfast then gone to the office; by the time the modern road warrior gets to their morning coffee they may have meditated, cleared their email inbox and dialled into an international conference call.
Research by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has shown 77 per cent of business travellers find eating healthily while travelling on business essential, with 64 per cent actively seeking out healthier menu options, and 63 per cent using food apps on their phone. Even in 2016, as many as 70 per cent of business travellers found access to a fitness centre or swimming pool to be an asset in a hotel.
Yet the evolution of the business traveller goes beyond healthy living. For these busy, internationally minded professionals, productivity is a priority, IT is indispensable and efficiency is essential – and hotels have had to adapt to meet their needs.
The Lobby as the Next Generation Office
Since Brad Neuberg first coined the term “co-working” in 2005, business travellers, be they entrepreneurs, executives or managers, have become increasingly comfortable using public spaces to do their work.
And that means a shift is underway in business hotels worldwide, as the bland corporate lobby of the past gives way to a more usable, multifunctional space, tailor-made for the new-generation of business traveller. This corporate traveller likes to work, but no longer requires the conventional office environment with its work desk, ergonomic chairs and landline. For them, the lobby might still be a space to interact and network. Yet it is also, as work-life boundaries evolve, a place to quietly catch up on business, not just wind down with a glass of wine.
Over the past three decades, hospitality veteran James Koratzopoulos has worked in Australia, China and the UAE; today, he is Regional General Manager in Dubai for hospitality giant InterContintental Hotels Group. “The formal days of the traditional business centre are gone,” he says. “Now, it’s all about an interactive lobby where people can enjoy great quality coffee, a salad or a light meal while they’re working, or as they’re having informal meetings in quiet secluded areas.”
While the contemporary business traveller may value the socialising – and networking – opportunities a lobby provides, they are, in many ways, more demanding of productivity tools than their parents’ generation. Jessica Collison, research director at the GBTA, notes that free, fast wi-fi is key for more than 90 per cent of business travellers. “Business travellers are looking for amenities that really allow them to be very productive on their trip,” she says. “They also value the creature comforts of home, but primarily it’s the productivity piece they’re looking for.”
Koratzopoulos adds: “Today’s business traveller is all about accessibility in real time. The availability of quality technology and always-on communication is paramount. We have the most updated wi-fi network in Dubai – 400Mbps. There really was a strong need for us to be able to ensure that our guests have the best connectivity possible.”
Yet, while the new business traveller values productivity, technology means so much more than a simple tool for work. There’s no way of telling whether the woman checking her tablet in the hotel lobby is looking at plans for a new apartment or fielding PowerPoint presentations. The man in the booth beside her might be dialling into parents’ evening at his son’s school or on a transcontinental debrief. The same devices are used for professional and personal life, and the two functions absorb both literal and metaphorical bandwidth.
And that presents its own challenges for the passionate hotelier, Koratzopoulos says. “We’ve become very focused on ensuring that our guests reach an equilibrium in their own lives and are able to juggle between work, accessibility and their family lives,” he says. To help guests achieve that essential downtime, Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City offers not only a lap pool, 24-hour fitness centre, a juice bar and a spa, but some of the area’s greenest running tracks.
Much has changed for the new wave of business traveller. But certain key requirements, Koratzopoulos says, remain constant across the generations. “Traditionally, people’s requests even now are the four Bs: a great bed, a great bathroom, a great breakfast and great bandwidth,” he said.
The layout of the traditional hotel room has evolved since the arrival of 24/7 connectivity and always-on working; spaces that used to be primarily for sleeping have developed to encompass dedicated zones for work and, equally importantly, relaxation. Adjustable lighting, comfortable desks and chairs, accessible power layout and flexible nooks that can be used for both work and play are essential to strike the delicate balance between business and leisure. Yet the very nature of such hybrid spaces makes rest more essential than ever before.
At Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City, staff go the extra mile to ensure a good night’s sleep and help their guests switch off entirely at the end of a busy day. Besides premium bedding, an aromatherapy spray and full blackout curtains, they offer a “phone jail”. “If you like, we will take away your laptop, your tablets, even your phone, and offer a wakeup call so you’re guaranteed not to be disturbed until you wake,” Koratzopoulos says.
For, paradoxical as it may seem to the hard-charging professional, sometimes the art in switching on and driving forward really lies in switching off. Rested, refreshed and ready to face the world, the business traveller can strive their hardest to deliver – both professionally and personally.