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In a challenging speech to the UK and Ireland Institute of Travel Management (ITM) earlier this month, Gordon Wilson spoke on how innovations and developments in the leisure market often migrated to corporate travel.
It was a theme also addressed by other speakers at the meeting in Manchester, that the booking of leisure and the booking of business were, thanks to the internet, becoming blurred.
The obvious example Mr Wilson, ceo of B2B international markets for Cendant TDS, gave was the affect low cost carriers have had on the traditional airlines, forcing them to change their ancient ways.
But some of Mr Wilson's other views and predictions have struck a less sure note with major travel management companies (TMCs).Among these were his view that there would soon be “corporate travel packages” like leisure breaks and that it is “commonplace” for business travellers to add on leisure days to business trips.
The first, say the TMCs, have been here for years while the second is not happening that much.
Mike Platt, now in the newly created post of group industry affairs director for HRG, said: “We have a scripting service where the traveller can tap in the destination and the date and which can then automatically book the same flight, the same hotel and sometimes even the same car you had last time.
“We can build a template and that will do this for you. We have been doing this for a long time and like any product, it gets enhanced as you go along. What is offered and what is provided is part of the company's travel policy.”
Tod Lockard, American Express's head of sales and business development, confirms the point: trip templates which contain content on preferred airline, hotels and ground transport have been used for years.
But he stressed the comparison between a leisure package and a corporate package ended there.
With the second, he said the TMCs added a sophisticated element of corporate control and savings, efficient service and a duty of care to the traveller.
Another focus of Mr Wilson's presentation was that it was becoming “more commonplace” for business travellers to add a leisure element to a business trip and also take their partner with them.
The findings of the Carlson Wagonlit Business Travel Indicator for 2005 seem to bear him out on this. This survey found that while 42% of business travellers said they never extended a trip, 58% said they did. The breakdown was that 39% added one or two days, 13% added three to five days while the rest -6% - added between six and more than 20 days.
Perhaps more interesting is those that are doing this come from five categories: people over 50, women, those flying low cost, those who have booked online and those whose company travel budget was under $2.5m.
Most of those who do add a leisure break also took family or friends.19% said they did this frequently, 28% occasionally and 32% rarely. Only 21% said they never did.
Mr Platt said that most companies and most travellers wanted to get to their destination as efficiently as possible, do their business and get home.
His experience was that “adding leisure to business does not tend to happen. It does not fit into their travel programme and tends to undermine their busy schedule. It does occasionally happen with smaller, more independent clients that they do deals whereby they change a business class seat for two in economy and take their spouse. This does happen but it is very, very small.”
Mr Lockard said Amex had seen this happening around the world for years, especially in the days when airlines enforced a Saturday overnight stay.
“For many years, some companies have taken the decision that if a traveller wants to downgrade and take a partner, they can. It's the notion of shared savings and has been around for years.
“Some companies accept this while others say ‘No, you pay yourself.' But it is nothing new.”
One reason Mr Lockard said that companies were against this was whether the duty of care they had to their employee extended to the employee's companion.
He added: “My instinct is that it is the smallish companies which do this. We have these anecdotes about it which leaves me to think that they are the minority.”
This squares with the Carlson survey of who does extend their corporate breaks.
What also seems to be emerging is the crucial part the Internet is playing in what could eventually be a significant change in travel habits.
It is letting travellers know just how wide a range of options there are, even for what might seem to be a simple trip point to point trip.
Smaller companies seem to be in the vanguard of this, possibly because their travellers already do much or all their own booking and are extremely familiar with the Internet.
Whether it will migrate to the larger companies with their busier schedules and stricter travel policies remains to be seen.