Simon Calder: Tight budgets force executives to think twice about flying
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Sunday 29 January 2012
Business travellers get a raw deal. The only reason holidaymakers can enjoy such outstanding value on flights, hotels and rental cars is that travelling executives bankroll the industry.
Your £400 return flight to New York is achievable only because business travellers pay 10 times as much to sit up front. Weekenders can find bargain hotels in Brussels because the big euros are paid during the week by business travellers. And when a holidaymaker's plane touches down, they start playing, but the business traveller must start working. Yet an elite member of the business travel industry believes executives should get a break – possibly, by staying in the office.
"We should take every opportunity to avoid travel where it makes sense," says Dean Forbes, chief executive of KDS – a leading international provider of travel and expense management systems. Forbes believes his clients could do better, especially on productivity. Which is why he has set his firm's mission as reducing travel budgets by a quarter.
"There's a balance between not travelling, and travelling for good business reasons. When we work with our customers and look at why they travel and whether those trips deliver the return they were looking for, most often they didn't. In the majority of cases that travel could have been replicated with a remote meeting or video conferencing, or could have been coupled with other trips or meetings that would have made the expenditure far more valuable."
You might imagine Forbes is regarded as a heretic by airlines, hotel chains and other suppliers. But he believes challenging the need for each business journey is good for the long-term health of the industry.
"Responsible suppliers wouldn't want to sell their product if it wasn't delivering value," says Forbes. "It's no good an airline selling more and more seats to a major corporation in the UK if that corporation at some point will figure out that half of those seats weren't necessary. It creates a false economy. And that's all we're really trying to help our customers figure out. Businesses will always have a need to travel. Our teams expect to see us and see each other. Our partners expect to have certain types of interaction with us. Video conferencing will never eliminate the need to spend time with teams, partners and customers."
If your journey really is necessary, how should you book it? Despite the unprecedented access the internet provides, Forbes still rates the travel agent – especially if things go wrong. "Travel agents are second to no internet site or product in helping travellers who are in a state of emergency to figure out how to recover."
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