Checking in to a cheaper future

Business travel providers will soon be producing better deals, as stiff competition forces them to offer more perks for less. By Simon Calder

When the telephone was invented in the 19th Century, the railway companies were worried. Surely, ran the argument, if people can make instant contact with each other, they won't bother to take the train. Yet the converse happened: telecommunication actually spurred an increase in travel.

When the telephone was invented in the 19th Century, the railway companies were worried. Surely, ran the argument, if people can make instant contact with each other, they won't bother to take the train. Yet the converse happened: telecommunication actually spurred an increase in travel.

At the end of the 20th Century, no business traveller needs to be told that the Internet revolution offers countless opportunities to transact electronically. In the next millennium, the most valuable commodities are likely to be time and the power of the human brain. Businesses are bound to reassess how much of each their executives are losing while globetrotting - and travel providers are having to work harder than ever before to devise ways of reducing the costs in time and stress.

More pragmatically, companies are reassessing expenditure on transportation and accommodation, and questioning whether the premiums being charged for business are justified.

The most extreme example is the route between London Heathrow and Los Angeles. Eight wide-bodied aircraft cover the 5,500 miles each way, every day. So intense is the competition for economy passengers that fares for the back of the plane have fallen as low as £200. Yet the normal business-class fare is just two pounds short of £5,000. Is it really worth 25 times the economy fare to travel on the same plane?

The airlines are trying to make sure that it is, by offering an ever-wider range of frills. The twin focuses are on reducing those invisible costs: greater comfort - which means reducing the stress of long-haul travel - and improved communications facilities, thereby maximising available time. But increasingly, many companies are insisting that their travel agents earn their keep by finding them much lower fares than the airlines officially demand. And calls for aviation liberalisation across the Atlantic, which should lead to more realistic pricing, are rising.

At the other end of the spectrum, frills are disappearing rapidly. So furious has been the competition from Britain's low-cost airlines that KLM UK has decided that it has no choice but to join them. From January, regular flyers on five routes from Stansted will find that lounge access and breakfast are now optional extras aboard the rebranded no-frills airline, Buzz.

The cheap carriers are practically keeping an entire Boeing 737 production line in business with big orders for more planes. These have to be flown somewhere, and the established carriers are likely to be threatened by more low-cost links from Britain. Ironically, British Airways is likely to cut back routes in the face of competition from its own no-frills operation, Go.

BA, which reported dismal results yesterday, is in retreat, cutting capacity by 12 per cent over the next few years in a bid to boost yields. Meanwhile, aviation is expected to continue to expand at its present rate of five per cent annually. It is something of a miracle that, in less than a century, aviation has gone from its birth on a windy December morning at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, to the point where the critical issues are legroom and the availability of laptop hook-ups.

Yet in the 21st Century, travellers will demand that the airlines reform themselves. According to the ticket I'm holding, in return for several hundred pounds, I receive a seat on an aircraft which may or may not depart on time, may not be operated by the airline stated on the ticket, may make unscheduled stops and, only if I am lucky, will arrive on roughly the right date in approximately the correct city. And I may not even be on board the plane if I've failed to reconfirm three days in advance. There is still no replacement in force for the 70-year-old Warsaw Convention.

The new wave of transport providers, notably the high-speed railways, are trying much harder to be customer-focused. Eurostar has no choice: the Channel Tunnel operator has no fewer than 10 million seats to fill this winter - plenty of them in the premium classes. No-one seriously disputes that a London to Paris journey is less stressful by rail than air, but Eurostar has yet to convince business travellers that it is a serious contender for feeding into the Continental high-speed network. And five years after they were promised, travellers from Scotland, the North of England and Midlands are still waiting for their Regional Eurostar trains to arrive.

On the hotel front, never mind the frills. The big question is something that is rapidly becoming a necessity: at what point does Internet access become a standard fitting in every business hotel room? Providing a modem point is no longer enough; surprisingly, many Internet cafés around the world are filled with people who find that the backpacker community is much better provided for than the business traveller.

While in India later this month, I may check out how bookings for easyJet or Go are doing. The Internet does something much more profound than simply allowing me to book a ticket by pressing a few keys; itempowers me as a traveller by revealing many of the secrets of yield management.

Anyone who browses through the no-frills airlines' websites (and I bet all easyJet's and Go's competitors do) can track booking patterns and yields throughout the year. Few small businesses will be able to resist shifting a meeting by a few hours to qualify for a £100 saving for each of the staff members involved. The sharing of information with the customer empowers them to exploit systems that were previously concealed. Every business travel provider - whether offering air, rail, car rental or accommodation - ignores that at their peril.

The business traveller in the new millennium will be more demanding than ever for quality in travel and accommodation, yet wants to pay less, in real terms, than ever before. And I think they will get away with it.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones