Best Places to Stay Survey: Clients Keep Pressure on Travel Expenses

Hotel Flight Rental Car Consultants continue to feel micro-managed when it comes to how they travel for business, according to a recent Consulting magazine survey of nearly 100 consultants. The good news is that most clients are not asking consultants to make changes to their typical travel expenses (so say 60 percent of respondents; up from 51 percent in 2009), according to Consulting ‘s annual Best Places to Stay survey. And, compared to last year, fewer consultants report that clients are:

  • Negotiating travel expense limits (down to 21 percent vs. 31 percent in 2009)
  • Requesting they travel less (down to 14 percent in 2010 vs. 22 percent in 2009)
  • Requiring they spend less on travel (down to 13 percent, from 20 percent in 2009)

However, an increasing share of consultants reports that clients are “more aggressively reviewing” their travel expenses (18 percent in 2010 vs. 13 percent in 2009). In other words, while the push back may not be getting worse, clients are maintaining the price controls on travel that were implemented during the heart of the downturn in 2009.

As previously reported, the other good news is that consultants are traveling less than they used to. The average consultant is on pace to travel about 88 days in 2010, down from 91 days in 2009 and 99 days in 2008, according to Consulting ‘s survey.

Pulling Suitcase up hill There are a number of reasons for this trend: 1) a dampening in demand requires less travel; 2) projects are getting smaller, requiring fewer nights away from home to complete the job; 3) consultants are pursuing more local clients; 4) clients and consultants are becoming increasingly comfortable doing more and more of the assignment off site. While we see no signs of a return to the high-travel days experienced at the end of the last decade, only time will tell if travel will pick up as demand improves.

While consultants may be traveling less then they use to, it’s still a major part of the job for many consultants. And, increasingly, it’s a major reason why many consultants are considering leaving the profession. Taking proactive steps to make travel less burdensome can go a long way to improving consultant morale and retention.

How to Improve Travel Policies

Consultants’ suggestions to improving their firms’ travel policies are modest and seemingly easy to implement. By far the most common request by consultants was to make their firms’ travel policies more flexible. Several consultants requested that firms improve the ease of the internal online booking service to at least match what’s commercially available from sites like Expedia or Hotwire. Specifically, consultants complained about out-of-date hotel information in small to mid-sized cities.

In addition, several consultants voiced frustration over their firms’ receipt handling systems. One consultant vented, “My firm is being stricter about retaining boarding passes for expense reporting, even for items the firm arranged and prepaid.”

Some firms are also offering some minor perks that others may want to consider, most notably:

Ways in Which

  • Per diem rates when traveling
  • Instead of only paying for a consultant to travel home at the end of the week, allowing them to pay the difference (above the cost of a return flight home) and go to another city for the weekend.
  • And, online travel tools that retain historical data (to help remind you of past travel experiences, good or bad)

Consultants Experience the Best and Worst the Travel
Industry Has to Offer

Given the frequent flyer miles racked up each year, airlines, hotels and rental car companies should be falling all over themselves to earn consultants’ business. And, in many cases, they do. But as consultants share with alarming frequency, many fall woefully off the mark.

What’s striking in reading about consultants’ travel experiences is how different some properties respond to the inevitable misplaced reservation or unclean room. It doesn’t take much to get on a consultants’ good list (having a CRM system to record and prompt management to a repeat customers’ preferences seems can go a long way). And, at the same time, it can take very little (nickel and diming a business traveler over a fax) to ruin a property in a consultants’ mind forever.

On the Road Again: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
For sure, traveling has its ups and downs. And then it has downright disgusting. Here are a few examples from this year’s survey.

The Good

  • Hilton general managers are very good to work with. They will help you to negotiate good rates for extended stays of a couple of weeks or more.
  • The staff at the Fairmont in San Francisco greets me by name and has my key ready with the doorman.
  • The Westin leaves a free bottle of wine, snacks and a welcome letter each week in my room.
  • The best hotel I have stayed in was the JW Marriott in Lima, Peru. The staff knew my name and treated me like royalty. They always gave me a room overlooking the water, gave me water when I checked in, and helped me find local shops and tours. I stayed over 50 nights with them.
  • The room above mine caught on fire. In extinguishing the blaze, water cascaded into my room. None of my belongings were damaged, but the hotel sent staff to collect my things and moved me to a VIP suite and extended my stay at no charge. They also sent me a letter with apologies and a coupon for a free night.
  • I return to hotels where the staff remembers my name and gives me a welcome packet with snacks. At one hotel, I once commented about my room’s great view and I’ve been offered the same room location each time I return.
  • The Four Seasons arranged for a color laser printer to be placed into one of our rooms and upon subsequent visits they’ve restored the set up we had. This made the team more effective and enabled us to focus on client needs.

The Bad
Ways in Which

  • I had a non-smoking reservation but was put in a smoking room and told that there were no rooms available. However colleagues arrived without a reservation later that night and received non-smoking rooms.
  • Room service broke a glass and left glass shards on the floor. Despite repeated phone calls to room service, no one came to my room to clean up. I had to get on my hands and knees and remove glass myself so I could go to sleep.
  • One hotel charged me $5 per page for a 45-page fax. It was the last time I have ever stayed at any hotel throughout that chain. The staff person said, “I’m sorry, sir, that’s our policy.” And I said, “Well, it is now my policy not to stay at [your hotel].” I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at other hotels over the last 20 years, but not one more penny with them. Just for a fax!
  • I recently had my shower break in the “on” position. Unfortunately, the hotel was sold out. Between the front desk staff and myself, we finally turned the water off. They gave me a key to a room that was under construction on the other side of the building. In the morning, I got up extra early to avoid any of my co-workers to get to the shower room and back.

The Ugly

  • Once, in a small hotel in Karachi, Pakistan, the hotel room door knob came off from inside my room, and I could not open door. The phone system of the hotel had been taken offline that day for an upgrade, and there were cockroaches in the room.
  • My room had bed bugs. The hotel moved me to a different room and then stated that I had to have a doctor’s note to prove it was bed bugs before they would credit me for the room.
  • I checked into a local hotel that looked like a fur ball had exploded. I asked for the bath to be recleaned and they hung new towels for me without cleaning the tub. I asked for cleanser so I could clean it myself, and they said they couldn’t provide it because it was against their insurance policy rules.
  • I was checked into a room with dirty towels and unchanged sheets that reeked of beer. I then had to argue with the front desk to get moved.