Cut backs - can they go too far?
Most of the current polls and surveys on business travel are revealing similar grim findings. The latest two, that of 170 buyers quizzed by the Business Travel Show and the new survey of 360 executives by Amadeus, are no different.
The first found that 38% of companies had cut travel budgets, 65% were looking for cheaper flights, 41% were downgrading accommodation and 18% were using public transport rather than taxis.
The Amadeus study by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 46% of executives were taking fewer trips and 28% were expecting to be downgraded from five- and four-star hotels.
Much of this is to be expected and being downgraded from a five-star hotel to a more modest establishment is not going to cut much ice with the thousands of people who have lost their jobs.
But the Amadeus survey seems to be suggesting a more fundamental change in business travel or, more precisely, in the attitude of companies to their business travellers.
The sub-title of the Amadeus survey is "The Austere traveller - the effect of corporate cutbacks on hotels" and Antoine Medawar, managing director of Amadeus Hospitality Business Group, sets its tone by remarking: "We are entering an age of visible austerity with regards to business travel."
He adds: "With the eyes of their organisations and shareholders upon them, executives are anxious to make business trips as productive as possible. Forget luxury gyms, spas and restaurants; instead concentrate on efficient check-in and check-out and internet access.
"Good Wi-Fi connectivity is now rated above any other luxury extra. There is a flight to trusted brands and the expectation of a common level of good service no matter where you are in the world."
The survey paints a picture of executives - 44% of the respondents were c-level or board members - who are concerned far less with luxury than with basic levels of service. They are respondents who see a future of fewer and shorter trips, a preference for trusted, known brands which deliver a uniform level of service and who see the recession as an opportunity to make more use of budget hotels, providing they can offer the correct standard of service.
Good service is considered to be getting the simple things right like an efficient check-in, cited by 68% of the respondents, flexibility to last minute changes (64%) and rapid resolutions to any problems (59%).
It ominously adds: "In comparison, anything with a whiff of luxury - such as concierge services - is considered far less of an indicator (of good service)."
To ram the "new age of austerity" home, more than half of respondents (54%) say they value convenience over comfort, while under a fifth (19%) like to travel on business trips with their families and fewer than a half (43 %) consider extending their business breaks to include some leisure time.
These are very different attitudes - especially the last - to what has prevailed in recent years.
As the report says: "It is an age where business is conducted within the confines of the hotel bedroom using remote office software, rather than in plush hotel business centres; and where the majority of executives value convenience over comfort."
The problem with the report is that while we know that the respondents are executives, it is not clear how many actually travel. The replies have the aroma of executives who hold the purse strings rather than the air tickets. It comes across as how things in these times ought to be rather than perhaps how they actually are.
Gauging - or at least attempting to - the return on investment (ROI) of a trip is a current fashion and in tougher times obviously assumes a greater importance. If a trip is just for colleagues to meet up and it can be achieved by a video conference, then why make it? Tougher times also require some measure of common sense practice of not spending unnecessarily.
But austerity can be taken too far. There has been much debate in recent years about the duty of care and the life/work balance. More enlightened companies accepted that if a traveller went on an air trip of six or more hours, it was best for him or her to travel in business, the argument being that a tired, disoriented executive is not likely to perform at optimum level which could damage the company if he/she was negotiating a multi-million dollar deal.
Similarly the concept of a life-work balance insisted that a refreshed, alert executive was of more use than a tired and stressed one. The recession has not changed that.
It is essential for companies to save money in these times but it is far better to do it by avoiding unneeded trips than by skimping on those which are vital to the company's well being.