On the road Again

Jason Stevens falls into the typical mobile manager category. His medium-sized New Zealand manu-facturing company calls on him to travel throughout Australasia and the East on regular basis. Stevens spends the equivalent of 10 days away from home in every month and that’s tough call for his family, his company and mostly for Stevens himself.
He knows the best hotels, the knowledgeable travel companies, the top airlines, the corporate savvy rental car firms, credit card companies, taxis and insurers – more importantly, they know him.
Hours spent en route are well used thanks to his high tech travelling companions – Stevens can link up and work anywhere, anytime. Five years ago it was lonely, impersonal existence with many frustrations during delays and downtime. Today Jason Stevens’ life on the road is very different ball game.
“From the time I order my Corporate Cab in the early hours of the morning, to the time I go to bed in my favourite hotel room at night, I have got efficient, friendly, personal service without having to say my name or pull out my wallet. Doing business away from home has come on in leaps and bounds in New Zealand and there are many organisations out there who have vastly improved life for the business traveller,” says Stevens.
Everyone from his cab driver, travel consultant, airline contact, insurer, hotel staff and rental car company has got Stevens taped. They know the car he prefers, he gets the same seat on the airline almost every time and the same room in each of his favourite hotels. The staff know him and their data even records the fact that Stevens likes boiled egg on toast late at night if it’s been heavy business day.
Stevens’ company books through House of Travel (New Zealand’s major travel company that has 75 outlets throughout the country) and is due to sign up to the newly launched corporate travel section – Orbit Business Travel. Orbit will operate as separate division of House of Travel in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Corporate general manager Scott McCrea says increased corporate business has prompted the move as well as “exciting new technology” known as OB2 – an email-based booking engine developed by the 22-strong technology team at House of Travel.
“We found there was demand because while the bulk of companies have web base, not all employees have access to it, yet nearly all have email. Because OB2 is an email program, it is easier and much quicker to use. Domestic air travel can be booked in under two minutes,” says McCrea.
Orbit will install the software free of charge. Clients can then go through the simple process of clicking on the email booking form, selecting where they want to go, the dates and times they want to fly and in 14 seconds they are presented with the options of flight times, carriers and costs. The user then types ‘book’ alongside the chosen flight and receives confirmation at the same time that it is passed on to Orbit. There it can be checked against the client’s company policy to make sure the person is an authorised user and isn’t trying to bend the rules by perhaps flying business class when they’re not eligible to do so!
McCrea says the information makes cost savings obvious with information like the difference between flying at 7am or 8.45am. “A PA can tell manager that if he leaves 40 minutes later he can save the company hundreds of dollars,” he says.
OB2 allows users to make other bookings at the same time, like hotels, rental cars etc. The request goes straight to the Orbit consultant and speeds up the whole process for customers. “It also allows for cost savings because we’re tapping into House of Travel’s huge network where there are very strong relationships with hotels and airlines,” says McCrea.
Going it alone on the net to make bookings hasn’t been hugely popular with business travellers with most organisations realising the benefit of using agents for knowledge and the best deals.
But ways to support those agents with internet connections and electronic ticketing have made major leaps as have programs that keep track of individual travel spending, preferences and travel logic.
Sabre Pacific, the local division of the huge Sabre global internet business travel company, is rapidly developing technology that will eventually allow travellers to check in for flight from their cellphone as they approach the airport carpark. The traveller would communicate with computer that recognises his speech, asking him relevant questions and reacting to the responses. When the would-be traveller has confirmed his details barcode would appear on the display screen of his cellphone. The barcode is scanned at the departure gate and the person would walk straight on to his flight – ideal for national travellers with only hand luggage.
While this is yet to come to pass, Sabre is increasing services to agents and clients with products like the “Sabre Virtually There” website which allows travellers to download travel itinerary details by email and will print e-ticket receipts for ticketless travellers.
Details can be automatically placed into desktop calendar – move welcomed by travellers and agents who no longer need to mail or courier information. The e-ticket receipt also provides proof of ticket purchase in case of last-minute airline changes and is useful for business travellers when they submit expense reports.
Efficient use of data has also eased the way for travellers staying in hotels. Frequent visitors have comprehensive files which take into account their personal preferences as well as company policy and billing procedures.
Hotels like the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor in Wellington are looking after business travellers so well that they were voted top hotel by recent Management survey. Of the business travellers polled, the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor was the name that featured most in the “best overall hotel” category.
Travellers polled also noted the importance of efficient, friendly service with convenient location and good transfers to and from the airport, must. Hotels that cater for women travelling on their own and have facilities like full-length mirrors, double plugs alongside the mirror and irons and ironing boards also got mention. Although many travelling managers like to use their own business tools, many stressed the importance of business centre within the hotel that stayed open after hours and at weekends. Adequate power plugs, computer cabling at waist height and efficient internet access were all important, according to those surveyed.
Susan Gibson, group communications manager for Dynasty Hotel Management, which runs the Heritage Hotels in Auckland, Rotorua, Hanmer Springs, Christchurch and Queenstown as well as the City Life Hotels in Auckland and Wellington, says the demands of the business traveller are so important that the hotel chain has crafted each property to suit their varying needs. The size and layout of rooms, plus the décor, style, menus, gym facilities and back-up services are flexible enough to revolve around individuals, groups and both short and long-stay guests.
The Heritage Auckland is New Zealand’s largest hotel with 467 luxury accommodation rooms and as well as becoming convenient base for business travellers it is also home to the Prada America’s Cup team. Business guests enjoy the choice of Deco styling and the historic setting in the original wing of the cleverly converted Farmers building or the contemporary environment in the new Tower wing. Many rooms are inter-connecting and in-room amenities are extensive. Suites can be personalised for guest preference, the kitchen and laundry facilities and the hotel will even do your supermarket shopping.
The two gymnasiums, swimming pools and tennis court are well used by business travellers and in-room business facilities include dual telephone ports for easy internet access.
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