Technology driving travellers’ expectations: Business Travel Summit

Chris Vukelich, Egencia; Dorothy Dowling, Best Western International; Ian Race, Vision Travel Solutions; Tony Pollard, HAC.

Chris Vukelich, Egencia; Dorothy Dowling, Best Western International; Ian Race, Vision Travel Solutions; Tony Pollard, HAC.

TORONTO — Rapidly changing technology, especially management via mobile device, continues to drive travellers’ expectations, according to a panel convened for Best Western’s Business Travel Summit, held Feb. 26 at Malaparte, in downtown Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.

“For Millennials, managing travel on mobile is not a convenience, but a necessity,” said panelist Ian Race, senior vice-president, sales and account management, Vision Travel Solutions.

Rounding out the panel were Chris Vukelich, vice-president, supplier relations, Egencia; Dorothy Dowling, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Best Western International; and Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). Handling moderator duties was Bryson Forbes, a consultant for Best Western.

Dowling noted the tremendous growth in online booking and said that fully half of Best Western’s bookings are conducted on the web. She added that Best Western will be monitoring upcoming wearable technology, such as the Apple watch, to see how it will affect travellers’ booking and in-room experiences. Another upcoming technological advance, she noted, is Google Fiber — 100 times faster than today’s basic broadband speeds — and Dowling said it remains to be seen how it will transform the travel experience.

Vukelich noted that increasingly, mobile apps are integrating the full travel experience, including booking hotels, shopping and renting cars. He also reported that more and more travellers are waiting until the day of their trip to book their hotel, which will affect how operators manage their properties.

An online survey, sponsored by Best Western and published on Facebook, revealed that the top hotel amenity on travelers’ wish list was free in-room WiFi (82 per cent of respondents). Echoing those numbers is the HAC’s annual survey, which revealed that the number one in-room amenity on travellers’ wish list is free WiFi, indicated by 85 per cent of respondents.

“All travellers want WiFi and they want it to work at a fast pace,” said Dowling. Guests want to use their mobile devices for whatever they want, whenever they want, she added.

Technology is also driving travellers to expect an experience personalized to their needs, according to Dowling and Vukelich. Online marketing is “critical” for hotels, said Pollard. “Hotels must know what customers want and give it to them.”

Social media, the go-to communicator of travellers’ complaints, is forcing brands to revamp their customer-service model, added Vukelich.

As for the Canadian hotel market, Pollard predicted a growth of 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent in overnight visits to Canada in 2015. 

RevPAR figures continue strong. For example, Vukelich said Canadian RevPAR figures “are the highest we’ve seen in Canada for a while” and the HAC is predicting a 5 per cent growth in RevPAR nationally in 2015. Dowling reported that Best Western is experiencing record RevPAR of over $100.

Driving strong Canadian RevPAR is domestic hoteliers’ improved management of their rooms; strong demand; and almost no new capacity.