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 Most everyone, by now, has heard of Uber and Lyft. In theory, the transportation services they provide make total sense from a consumer, employee and employer standpoint. A customer takes out his or her phone, loads the app, requests a ride and within minutes he or she is in a car on the way to the destination.

There’s no doubt that the marketplace is responding favorably, as recently estimated values for Uber exceed $40 billion, while Lyft is listed at an impressive $700 million. Theory isn’t necessarily reality, however, and just like Airbnb, a few issues are still preventing both of these “ridesharing” companies from fully emerging as the preferred taxi method over traditional cabs – particularly for business travel.

How do Uber and Lyft differ? 

The essential services that Uber and Lyft provide are extremely similar to each other. Once you’ve signed up with either company you can enter your credit card information so that no transaction is necessary during the course of your ride. Your card will be automatically charged after the ride is complete. When you request a ride, drivers are notified and can choose to pick you up depending on their proximity and your intended destination. A feature of both companies that is a slight advantage over regular taxis is they encourage users not to tip drivers.

Uber tends to be geared more toward professional transportation and Lyft, as Tech Times stated, gives off more of a “I’m just a friend who’s giving you a ride feeling. Lyft drivers generally use their own personal cars – often sporting a giant pink mustache on the front.

Pricing and Service Options

Pricing is similar for both companies so for the purposes of this article we will focus on Uber. Three primary factors affect pricing:

  • The type of service you want.
  • What city you’re in.
  • How much demand there is for the service at the time you want to travel

Uber actually offers five different kinds of rides, which include the following:

  • UberX, the standard and cheapest Uber ride where drivers use their own cars.
  • Uber Taxi, actual licensed cab drivers who collaborate with Uber.
  • Uber Black, a more “deluxe” experience, featuring black cars for a more professional transfer.
  • Uber SUV, for larger groups.
  • Uber Lux, the most expensive service featuring the highest luxury cars available, such as Mercedes or BMW.

Lyft offers a more limited menu of options with their standard service as described above, and Lyft Plus which provides transportation for six or more passengers. No black car service options are offered, and if you do get a black car it will probably have pink facial hair.

“IF UBER DETERMINES TRAFFIC TO BE BUSY AND RIDER DEMAND HIGH, IT WILL TACK ON WHAT IT REFERS TO AS “SURGE PRICING”, WHICH CAN FORCE RATES TO DOUBLE, TRIPLE OR IN SOME CASES SURGE EVEN MORE.”

Benefits for Business Travel

Business Insider did a side-by-side comparison between the average fares of Uber and regular taxi services in major cities. It essentially found Uber to be a cheaper ride overall, however, the element of “surge pricing” is a big factor for calculating your price. If Uber determines traffic to be busy and rider demand high, it will tack on what it refers to as “surge pricing”, which can force rates to double, triple or in some cases surge even more. Lyft has the same add-on, called “prime time,” and both companies notify users about these increased prices before they agree to a ride. However, one offer Lyft provides that Uber doesn’t is a price decrease called “Happy Hour,” which can decrease fares by 10 to 50 percent if business is slow.

Uber and Lyft can be very convenient for business travelers because their prices are simple and accommodating for companies. Uber’s Business program and Lyft’s For Work program offer services such as travel policy protections, easy administration of employees, simplified billing and expense reporting. In addition, Concur provides access to Uber through its app for booking, payment and expense reporting.

Questions with Uber and Lyft

There has been a great deal of debate about insurance procedures for both companies. When it comes to insurance policies, regular taxi companies have gone to great lengths to lash out at Uber and Lyft for their current regulations, asserting that drivers for both enterprises are sidestepping their personal insurance claims by avoiding reporting the fact they work for a ridesharing service. In fact, 45 taxi groups in the city of Philadelphiafiled a lawsuit against Uber in late 2014 because they felt the company was not correctly operating under state laws and regulations. Uber itself claims that in the event of an accident, there’s a “commercial insurance policy for ridesharing with $1 million of coverage per incident,” which provides coverage for anyone injured in the event of a mishap, “from the time a driver accepts your trip request through the app until the completion of your trip.” Lyft also provides coverage for the same amount of $1 million.

The primary issue centers on the insurance held by the drivers themselves. As Forbes reported, Uber and Lyft have historically told their drivers that their existing private insurance is all they need. However, many insurance companies feel differently and consider this type of driving to be commercial activity. Drivers have had no choice, in some cases, than to conceal the fact that they drive for Uber or Lyft from their insurance companies. This has led to some policies being cancelled when drivers are discovered, as well as allegations of insurance fraud. New laws and new hybrid personal/commercial policies aimed at drivers are currently in the works that will help to protect drivers and ensure rider safety.

Controversy and Global Concerns

Uber has come under fire for controversies with regard to several different alleged business practices, including sabotaging and recruiting Lyft drivers,  proposing to expose personal secrets of critical journalists, and implementing surge pricing during emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy and the Sydney hostage crisis. In addition, Uber has had trouble spreading to all major markets – particularly globally. Germany banned Uber over licensing and France is currently investigating similar bans. The service has also been stopped in India due to a reported attack by an Uber driver. Similar charges have been filed against Uber drivers in France. UN Women, a United Nations organization focused on gender equality and empowerment, cancelled an announced partnership with Uber. All of these factors must be considered by businesses with active corporate social responsibility initiatives.

“WHILE IT STILL REMAINS TO BE SEEN HOW FUTURE LAWS COULD IMPACT POLICIES, PRICES AND SERVICE FOR RIDESHARING COMPANIES, THE VERDICT SEEMS TO BE THAT SERVICES LIKE UBER AND LYFT CAN BE A SMART OPTION FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL.”

The Bottom Line on Ridesharing Services

According to Uber, companies will save $1,000 or more per employee per year when using its Uber for Business model compared to regular taxi enterprises. Even corporate giants such as Morgan Stanley have publicly shared their endorsement of Uber by allowing its employees to use the ridesharing venture as a part of their business travel policy. Traditional taxi services are quickly adapting to this new era and many have introduced apps that mimic Uber and Lyft in an attempt to curb the loss of business.

While it still remains to be seen how future laws could impact policies, prices and service for ridesharing companies, the verdict seems to be that services like Uber and Lyft can be a smart option for business travel.

To recap, here are three important things to consider when using a ridesharing service for business travel:

  1. Consider looking at alternatives in markets where Uber and Lyft pricing is higher or more apt to enter surge pricing periods. Do the taxi and black car services in the area offer similar technologies?
  2. Review your company’s policies with regard to ridesharing services as well as any potential corporate social responsibility initiatives that might be applicable.
  3. Consider using Uber and Lyft’s business options which offer services such as travel policy protection and centralized direct billing.

In a globally connected world, business travel is essential. But it comes with the chance that your people will face risks. These range from natural disasters to civil unrest and war. Mistakes can cost your company, big time, but experts say you can manage those risks and deliver on your Duty of Care if you think ahead of time – in detail – about the landscape you’re entering.

Recently Troy Lockyer, managing director of Lockforce, talked with Australian Mining, an industry magazine and website,about the challenges of sending business travelers out into an uncertain world. Lockyer has 19 years of military experience, and has consulted to resource companies all over the world, including Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America.

Lockyer told the magazine’s Megan Edwardsthat the three biggest things he advises companies to be aware of before sending staff overseas to work are: 

    • Research or risk assessments
    • Detailed security, safety and cultural sensitivity issues specific to the country where the travelers will be working
    • A robust communication policy and procedure.  He said it should be written, implemented, tested and exercised to promote a culture of travel safety and security.

And here’s the thing. You might think only certain people in an organization need to know the information developed that way, but Lockyer says it has to go well beyond a small group of travelers and managers. He says everyone within your organization should be briefed whether they travel or not. We immediately got an image of one person working in an office on a Saturday when a call comes in from a traveler halfway around the world, in a country where an earthquake, storm, or riot have suddenly changed all of the reference points.  That home office employee would need this knowledge as a starting point.

Lockyer’s top piece of advice to Australian Mining is that an organization should establish a travel or journey management plan prior to any deployment, make sure everyone knows it, and stick to the plan if something happens.  In a constantly changing world, that’s excellent counsel.

 Messaging from Concur would be a valuable tool to add into the mix here. It can help an organization find its people in a crisis zone, and establish two way communication to get them help, or get them out.

Vacation travelers are always on the hunt for the best deal – particularly when it comes to hotels. For business travelers, the concept of open booking has been very popular in the last few years as travelers look to make choices outside of their company’s traditional managed travel program. With the prevalence of mobile online booking, a new crop of fraudulent hotel sites have appeared that prey on travelers looking to go it alone with their bookings. It isn’t an isolated problem either. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) estimates that the number of US travelers falling victim to booking scams each year is as high as 2.5 million.

Fraudulent sites may be built to resemble legitimate booking sites, going as far as using the logos and color schemes of hotels and reputable online sites. They will collect deposits from bookers or a “commission” without ever booking the reservation.

It has become harder and harder to notice the fakes as more people book via their mobile devices. Maryam Cope, Vice President for Government Affairs for the AH&LA told the LA Times that travelers may not even realize they’ve been scammed until it’s too late. “If you book the room online you may not find out there is a problem until you show up at the front desk,” said Cope.

The AH&LA has worked with members of Congress to reach out to the US Attorney General’s office, educating them on the issue and asking them to spread the word about these scams. Until these fraudsters are cracked down upon, here are some things you can do to protect your money and enjoy your upcoming trip:

  • If you’re a business traveler and your company has a managed travel program, booking through company-approved channels is always the best option.
  • Don’t click links from emails or other websites that lead you to a hotel booking site. Access sites directly via their URL or their official mobile app.
  • If you aren’t familiar with the hotel booking site, do some research. A few searches of Google and social media sites can save you from a ruined trip.
  • Use your instinct. If it doesn’t look or feel right, it probably isn’t. Call your travel management company or reach out to the hotel directly to be sure.

 

 

So your company is expanding and, for the first time, you'll be sending key employees abroad to work in other markets. While the opportunities for expansion may appear limitless, so is your potential liability for failing to protect your employees from the myriad problems they may face while traveling on business. While some risks may appear obvious, such as the Ebola virus in West Africa, or kidnapping in Syria or fighting in Ukraine, there are other, less obvious risks such as an employee falling in the shower or suffering from a poisonous insect bite. In addition to personal safety risks, your employee could face border hassles or even detention for failing to have the proper travel documents, vaccinations or visas. As an employer, you have a legal and moral duty to protect employees from harm while traveling for business. A little advance planning can help you avoid or mitigate any emergencies that might occur.

1. What type of assignment will the employee have?

Start by analyzing what you will need your employee to do. Will the employee be traveling on short-term assignments (defined as a stay ranging from days to several months, but generally less than 12 months), long-term assignments (usually defined as 12 months or longer, but generally for a set period of time, and the employee will typically maintain a home in the US) or will the employee be re-locating indefinitely, being compensated in local currency and benefits? Even business travelers traveling for short stays in other countries will likely need special visas. For example, although Canada is a friendly and tolerant neighbor, there are special requirements for business travelers, as you would expect for business travelers to the US. Before you send your employee to Canada or another country as a tourist, consider that traveling without the proper documentation, even for a short trip, could result in in detailed questioning at the border, a search of personal electronics, detention, or even the employee being turned away at the border. Employees who are dishonest about their travel purpose or have inadequate documentation may be banned from future travel to that country or face deportation or even criminal sanctions.

2. Assess Risks and Develop a Plan

A thorough risk assessment should be made prior to sending any employees overseas. Maybe the travel destination is not known for kidnappings, political unrest, or terrorism, but what if the employee hits his head? What if is in a serious car accident? Will your U.S. medical insurance cover the employee's medical expenses? Employers may want to contract with a specialty firm that provides in-country medical and evacuation services in the event of a medical emergency. At a minimum, employers should be familiar with the country's medical system and understand what an employee needs to do to access emergency medical care. What if the employee needs surgery? Is the local blood supply safe? Any special vaccinations required or precautions regarding food or water? Depending on the destination-country's health care system, employers may want to consider contracting with a local medical group to provide care or to evaluate an employee's need for evacuation.Will the employee be covered under state workers' compensation plans even while on overseas assignment? Although most state plans cover employees who are overseas temporarily, depending on the country, U.S. employers are advised to purchase a foreign voluntary workers' compensation policy for employees who will be on longer-term assignments.Prudent employers will also plan for less likely possibilities. What if the employee or a close family member is kidnapped? How will employees be assisted in the event of prolonged political unrest or rioting? The U.S. State Department website is a good place to start with any risk assessment, and provides a helpful outline of risks for a particular country. An international risk management firm also may be able to assist the employer to determine the best plan for a particular country, and may even be able to provide in-country assistance should a security or medical emergency arise.

3. Train employees prior to departure.

While it is always a good idea to provide employees with cultural sensitivity training for the travel destination, personal safety and security training should be included, targeted to the travel destination, and employees should be aware of any plans in place to protect their safety. The most frequent problems encountered by employees traveling overseas are petty theft and minor illnesses, but even minor incidents can escalate into big problems if the employee is unprepared.In addition to warning employees about the inherent risks of travel and any specific risks associated with the travel destination, employers should spell out the types of assistance available and give contact information for emergencies. Before designating a resource, be sure that person or group is available at all times (employees may be traveling to a country in a different time zone) and has enough local knowledge to assist in the event of a crisis.

4. Track your traveling employees.

Although employers must be sensitive to employee privacy concerns, prudent employers should have a general sense of where their employees are at all times. Consider asking employees to "check-in" whenever they arrive in or leave a country, and security or human resources staff should continually monitor the political and security situation in each country to which employees travel.

There are many styles of travel; from luxury to budget to adventure and everything in between. We all know those people whose idea of a relaxing vacation is to skydive into an active volcano or hand feed great white sharks but, with enough money and training, you now have an opportunity to make those things look like afternoon tea at The Ritz. I’m talking about taking a Russian rocket to the International Space Station and going on a space walk. If that sounds far fetched, you may be surprised to learn that it’s already being done.

In the history of the human race, fewer than 550 people have ever visited space. Some argue that if the human race has a chance of survival that we’ll have to do better and get sizable portions of the population off the planet and settle somewhere ostensibly safer. A first step in reaching this long-term goal is far less altruistic and a bit more self-serving. Although space tourism appears indulgent and extravagant on the surface, it’s a dress rehearsal of sorts; a baby step in service of putting civilians in space.  The wealthy who are able to participate in these fledgling programs are our test pilots, offering themselves as designer-clad lab rats, assuming all the risk inherent in such a venture.

Everyone seems to be asking if there is an actual market for space travel. Is the market too young to even make predictions? Who is the customer now, and who will it be once costs make it feasible for non-millionaires and celebrities? What are the risks? What are customer expectations? There are a number of legitimate financial, logistical, technological and safety concerns. Putting someone on an airplane is one thing. Strapping them into a Russian Soyuz space vehicle atop a rocket bound for the International Space Station is something else altogether. Until Dennis Tito did just that in 2001 for a reported $20 million, only trained astronauts travelled to space. In fact, the crew originally refused to train with him.

Even sub-orbital travel has its risks as the Virgin Galactic accident in October 2014 proved. In fairness, the incident happened after a run of 54 successful test flights and may have been due to pilot error. Even so it is inarguably a new frontier with all the risks that entails. Losing a test pilot is difficult enough, but should an accident occur with say, a Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher aboard, things may grind to a halt.

There is evidence for a robust potential market. Projections indicate revenues in excess of USD 500 million per year by 2026 according to a space tourism market study by the Futron Corporation. The Tauri Group 2012 estimated a lower amount of USD 50-150 million in 2012. As of July 2012, the combined total business disclosed across the sub-orbital space tourism operators is more than 900 reservations (Virgin Galactic claims just over 700 of those) and about USD 80 million in deposits or fares. It is assumed that as prices go down, reservations will go up. Public perception may also change as sub-orbital flights begin and the hypothetical becomes reality.

So you decide you want to be a space tourist. What are your options?

SUBORBITAL FLIGHTS:

Suborbital spaceships would take passengers up to space at an altitude of about 50-62 miles (the edge of space) while experiencing several minutes of weightlessness. The flights would depart from a spaceport and require several days of training.

Virgin Galactic’s founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, has been a strong advocate and innovator in the space tourism arena. He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 after finding great success with Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic airlines as well as many other business ventures.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space plane is designed to be carried into midair by the company’s massive WhiteKnightTwo mothership. At an altitude of about 50,000 feet, the carrier plane releases SpaceShipTwo, which fires its rocket engine and climbs toward the edge of the atmosphere. Passengers will experience roughly five minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to the spaceport.

SpaceShipTwo mimics the performance of a capsule or of a winged vehicle at the appropriate parts of its trajectory.  By changing its configuration in flight, SpaceShipTwo can benefit from the advantages of both types.

The company reports more than 700 customers who have made deposits for spaceflights. The biggest known names on the list are actor Ashton Kutcher, singers Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga, although rumor has it that Katy Perry, Russell Brand, Leonardo DiCaprio, Princess Beatrice, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Lance Bass have also purchased tickets.

ORBITAL FLIGHTS:

You’ll have to open your wallet a bit (OK, a lot) further to have the chance to rocket into low-Earth orbit and visit the International Space Station. The $20-$35 million price tag gets you to the ISS via Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, just as NASA astronauts do currently. You will stay aboard the ISS for approximately ten days after extensive training. Spacewalk optional. (But since you’re there…) Coming soon; an opportunity to fly around the moon.

The Virginia-based Space Adventures is a space tourism company that arranges multimillion-dollar trips to the International Space Station for extremely wealthy clients. The firm is the only company that has booked private flights to the space station, and brokered those deals with the Russian Federal Space Agency, to charge customers about $35 million for rides on Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.

Dennis Tito, a California-based multimillionaire, became the first-ever space tourist when he launched to the station in a Soyuz capsule in 2001, when he spent nearly eight days in orbit as a crew member of ISS EP-1.

He was soon followed by a number of wealthy space enthusiasts, including American billionaire Charles Simonyi and Ansari X Prize backer Anousheh Ansari – the first female space tourist. In total, Space Adventures has arranged eight private space tourist flights to the International Space Station for seven people (one customer flew twice) since 2001.

The most recent flight occurred in October 2009, which sent Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, founder of the circus troupe Cirque du Soleil, on an 11-day space excursion.

Sarah Brightman (Singer and ex-wife of Andrew Lloyd Webber) is next up to head to the ISS, and is scheduled to launch in 2015.

Although Russia temporarily shut down the program, Russian officials say they will resume space tourism in 2018 after years of only sending professional cosmonauts and astronauts into space (with Brightman the recent exception).

Upcoming: Circumlunar Mission

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous than a week on the ISS, Space Adventures hope to be able to send space tourists to the far side of the moon and back aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft within the next three years. Tickets for the trip cost $150 million each and the first mission is expected to launch by 2018. Each flight will host two private citizens and one professional cosmonaut on a free return trajectory around the far-side of the Moon.  They will come to within 100km of the Moon’s surface, where they will see the illuminated far-side of the Moon, and then witness the amazing sight of the Earth rising above the surface of the Moon.

When Elon Musk isn’t inventing the Tesla or selling Paypal for over a billion dollars, he’s using his spare time to create a commercial spacecraft company that contracts with NASA to carry cargo to the ISS. If he has his way, transporting human cargo will be next.

Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies (or SpaceX) in June 2002, with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology.

He’ll accomplish this via Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to orbiting destinations such as the ISS. Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans. Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew. Dragon’s first manned test flight is expected to take place in 2-3 years. Whether or not Musk will be able to achieve his long-term dream of sending humans to Mars is a big question, and whether or not civilians will be up to the task is another.

Boeing’s planned “space taxi,” which will ferry U.S. astronauts to the ISS, will include a seat for paying tourists to visit the facility. It will be a first for the U.S. space program and an alternative for those not wanting to make use of the Russian Soyuz vehicle, although the pricing will be similar. The CST-100 craft will hold up to seven astronauts for the six-hour journey.

What’s Next?

The apparent abundance of potential options certainly signals that the aerospace industry wants to keep the momentum going and hopefully drive prices down in the process.

Whether or not prices will come down far enough for a non one-percenter to join the ranks of the spacefaring few is yet to be seen.  There is no doubt that the desire is there, and investors are taking the risk that the general public will be on board, both literally and figuratively.

NASA seems quite happy to partner with private companies such as SpaceX and Space Adventures, and the public interest will likely increase as more civilians are able to travel into space, even if only for a few minutes. Those few minutes will eventually turn to days, months or more as the technology improves exponentially over time. Humans are explorers, with a healthy sense of adventure and a thirst to discover the unknown. We will take these next steps into the unknown bravely and enthusiastically. I can’t wait.

 

 

 

Backed by the current growth momentum, Travel, Hospitality, and Leisure (THL) companies are heading strong into 2015. Amid pent-up demand, it’s important that companies leverage technology to effectively respond to newer forms of competition and a globe-trotting wired customer. Guy Langford, Vice Chairman and U.S. Travel, Hospitality and Leisure leader, Deloitte LLP, shares his thoughts on the opportunities and challenges for the industry in 2015, as well as some steps companies can take to grow. 

Where do you see the opportunities for growth in your sector? 

US THL companies performed very well in 2014 and they are expecting continued robust growth in 2015. US visitor exports—the measure of money spent by international tourists—are expected to increase four percent to $200 billion in 2015, thanks to improvement in the global economic environment and increasing income levels in emerging markets.¹ 

A part of what Millennials want is a customized experience. The hotels that are best able to provide a customized, differentiated experience to customers will be winners in 2015 and beyond. Hotels have to find the right combination of personalization, design, ambience and technology to build lasting loyalty with the Millennial customer. Where Millennials are concerned, consumer engagement is not something that begins at the hotel’s front door; it begins with online search and must be ongoing and evolving.

Millennials also want transparency and the sense that they are receiving “value for money”. Generally speaking, fast casual restaurants get this and offer what most effectively cater to younger diners—fresh and locally sourced fare and tech-friendly, communal settings with the meal prepared in a way that the customer can literally see. This is what Millennials seek and they are willing to pay more for a meal at a fast causal restaurant precisely because they sense that they are receiving incremental value.

Millennials also have a robust appetite for innovative technology. For them, free Wi-Fi in a hotel or restaurant is ”table-stakes” and no longer a novelty. They are always testing the technology readiness of THL players and seeking out new digital payment platforms. Additionally, Millennials have used technology to shape a “shared” economy, an emerging trend that will continue to loom large within the THL space in the years ahead. This trend is finding expression in such platforms as AirBnB and Uber. AirBnB, for example, is more than a cost-saving social media rental site–it has become a gateway to thousands of personalized, one-of-a-kind lodging experiences in destinations around the world. 

Emerging platforms such as AirBnB and Uber are gradually becoming mainstream and challenging established players. In the race of traditional vs. alternative, the winners will be those who can create value for customers that they can experience and measure. Time will tell how this battle unfolds. In response to AirBnB, for example, we may see the emergence of a residential boutique segment that truly reflects the trappings of home (beyond a kitchen), as well as new sub-brands that emphasize a more personalized stay experience with greater proprietor and concierge involvement that appeal to Millennials especially.

These disruptive and new technologies in THL present a key question for existing and long-standing market participants – compete, lobby to regulate/shut down or collaborate? How these challenges and new entrants are handled will ultimately shape who will be the key “next generation’ market leaders.

With the confluence of global expansion, emerging and disruptive technologies, and a rapidly expanding Millennial population, it is clear that the next five years will be very different from the past five years and new “winners” and market leaders will emerge. 

What should businesses be mindful of as they plan for growth?

As important as growth is across the THL spectrum, it should not be pursued blindly. Yes, everyone must get the table stake attributes right—comfort, price, food taste, loyalty programs, among many other things. Yet, players across the THL spectrum must grow smartly, and not try to be all things to all people. In this regard, two key questions come to the forefront: What kind of brand engagement are they seeking—and with whom are they seeking it? Each consumer cohort is characterized by a unique set of preferences, even if they all want the basics. 

But smart growth also means the highest standards of data privacy. Customers have different appetites in sharing personal information with companies; however, each customer wants to ensure that personal data find safe custody. The risk of cybersecurity breaches looms increasingly large, especially in consumer sensitive sectors. Whether THL companies’ legacy systems are good enough to catch up with innovative breaches is a question that needs deliberation.

Smart growth also demands a thorough and current understanding of the regulatory framework of each domestic and foreign market that a company serves. In the US alone, THL players must navigate an ever-changing labyrinth of federal and state regulations covering everything from food safety to pollution controls. As THL players expand globally and fall under the jurisdictions of foreign markets, that burden multiplies many fold. Global expansion also implicates additional US federal laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which governs relations between US companies and local government officials in foreign markets. 

For its part, the gaming industry often experiences headwinds with the introduction of new regulations or changes to existing ones related to market entry. Macau, for instance, hosts the world’s largest gaming market with a notable presence of US gaming players. However, recent changes to Macau’s transit visa rules--accompanied by more stringent enforcements—are restricting visitors’ ability to visit as often and for as long as they like. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Macau’s gaming revenue was down 23 percent year-over-year in October, which is the fifth consecutive monthly decline.²

Finally, smart growth means situational awareness. Today’s geopolitical situation appears more fragile than ever before. From the civil unrest in Thailand and Hong Kong to the political disturbances in Ukraine and Egypt to the economic sanctions in Russia, geopolitical factors are likely to impact growth of THL companies in 2015. While looking for international growth avenues, especially in politically sensitive regions, THL players need to make sure that their risk management strategies are appropriate.  

What’s the next big thing? What markets do you see emerging in the sector?

Any discussion of the next big thing must start with the generational shift that will drive all other emerging trends in the THL space. Millennials—those between 21 and 35—are now beginning to enter their prime earning years. The Millennial cohort will represent up to three quarters of the global workforce within ten years.³ To “win the Millennial”, any consumer-facing business must understand the needs and desires of this critical consumer demographic. The good news for THL industry participants is that Millennials love to travel, even more so than previous generations.

A part of what Millennials want is a customized experience. The hotels that are best able to provide a customized, differentiated experience to customers will be winners in 2015 and beyond. Hotels have to find the right combination of personalization, design, ambience and technology to build lasting loyalty with the Millennial customer. Where Millennials are concerned, consumer engagement is not something that begins at the hotel’s front door; it begins with online search and must be ongoing and evolving.Millennials also want transparency and the sense that they are receiving “value for money”. Generally speaking, fast casual restaurants get this and offer what most effectively cater to younger diners—fresh and locally sourced fare and tech-friendly, communal settings with the meal prepared in a way that the customer can literally see. This is what Millennials seek and they are willing to pay more for a meal at a fast causal restaurant precisely because they sense that they are receiving incremental value.Millennials also have a robust appetite for innovative technology. For them, free Wi-Fi in a hotel or restaurant is ”table-stakes” and no longer a novelty. They are always testing the technology readiness of THL players and seeking out new digital payment platforms. Additionally, Millennials have used technology to shape a “shared” economy, an emerging trend that will continue to loom large within the THL space in the years ahead. This trend is finding expression in such platforms as AirBnB and Uber. AirBnB, for example, is more than a cost-saving social media rental site–it has become a gateway to thousands of personalized, one-of-a-kind lodging experiences in destinations around the world. Emerging platforms such as AirBnB and Uber are gradually becoming mainstream and challenging established players. In the race of traditional vs. alternative, the winners will be those who can create value for customers that they can experience and measure. Time will tell how this battle unfolds. In response to AirBnB, for example, we may see the emergence of a residential boutique segment that truly reflects the trappings of home (beyond a kitchen), as well as new sub-brands that emphasize a more personalized stay experience with greater proprietor and concierge involvement that appeal to Millennials especially.These disruptive and new technologies in THL present a key question for existing and long-standing market participants – compete, lobby to regulate/shut down or collaborate? How these challenges and new entrants are handled will ultimately shape who will be the key “next generation’ market leaders.

With the confluence of global expansion, emerging and disruptive technologies, and a rapidly expanding Millennial population, it is clear that the next five years will be very different from the past five years and new “winners” and market leaders will emerge.

____________________________________________________________

Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2014, United States, World Travel & Tourism Council, accessed November 11, 2014. 

Monthly Gross Revenue from Games of Fortune, Macau Gaming Inspection and Co-ordination Bureau, accessed November 11, 2014.

Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte Millennial Survey Executive Summary, Deloitte accessed December 14, 2014.

The latest update to the Google Flights price comparison tool, as well as the introduction of Google Hotels, has the world buzzing, with many praising the user experience.

The flexibility of Google Flights is unprecedented in terms of providing the cheapest and best flight routes available to a specific or general destination. It includes filters such as number of stops, price, airline, times and flight duration, but it also includes such things as a world map where you can select general destinations such as Southeast Asia and be provided with a glance of some of the cheapest destinations in that region.

On top of that, an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button spits out destinations based on value, popularity and your personal search history. Google Flights even tracks real-time price changes, delivering an email to travelers promptly when a destination becomes cheaper.

But while Google Flights has delighted travelers based on its ability to narrow down the cheapest and most popular destinations (no OTA currently offers this kind of personalization, or this many filters and tracking mechanisms), it has sounded the alarm bells for airlines, hotels and travel agents.

The biggest concern for airlines, hotels and agents is that Google Flights and Hotels may morph from relatively harmless price comparison tools to full-fledged booking engines for Google. The effects of this would put airlines, hotels, agents and even OTAs at a serious disadvantage.

After all, Google doesn’t have to advertise for prime placement on its own search engine. If it adds its own booking widget, travelers from all over the world will be flocking to Google Flights and taking business away from the rest of the travel industry…at virtually no extra cost to Google.

However, one digital marketing executive thinks Google Flights could be a blessing in disguise for airlines.

Seth Cassel is president and partner of EveryMundo, a company that solves complex digital marketing challenges for airlines and travel brands. EveryMundo's proprietary technology (AirTRFX) helps airline marketers create the volume and quality of online content they need to drive qualified traffic to their own branded sites.

Cassel admitted that at first the introduction of the new-and-improved Google Flights was great cause for airlines to be worried.

There are two main ways companies can be seen on a Google search: via organic means (the most popular companies that saturate the market are naturally seen on the first couple pages of a search based on simple traffic) and paid advertising (you can boost yourself to the first page of Google search, for example, by paying Google more than your competitors).

The problem right away was that Google was dominating organic searches and companies were doing the only thing they could to boost traffic: by paying for it, and paying handsomely at that.

“Our initial reaction, when Google Flights started to work into our markets where we were managing strategies for airlines, it was actually damaging,” Cassel said. “What we initially saw was an immediate—I mean, an instant—drop in organic search revenue, particularly for non-brand search queries (for general flight searches from Point A to Point B).”

“It was definitely a difficult thing to deal with at first, because you said, ‘Oh, wow, what’s going on here? All of our organic search (revenue) is falling, our paid search is getting more expensive…This looks like Google doing what they say they never do.’ So, that was a bit frightening at first.”

But Cassel said Google Flights could actually be a boon for airlines if it operates in a certain way. Right now, when a traveler searches using Google Flights, the grand majority of routes link directly to the booking page of the corresponding airline. So, right now, while organic search revenue is down, it doesn’t really matter because airlines are receiving bookings through Google Flights. Essentially, Google is doing the work for them.

“As it’s been in the market, we’ve gotten a little more comfortable and a little more positive on the impact Google Flights will have on an airline looking to do direct sales,” Cassel said. “In the end, I think this is going to be more detrimental and more competitive with other metasearch engines and OTAs. Users are using the Expedias and Kayaks of the world not just to purchase, but to search. As someone who spends his whole day worrying about search, I think that Google takes offense that there might be people out there who are searching and don’t think of Google as the place to go.”

Of course, this all depends on what Google will ultimately do. The multibillion dollar company has yet to unveil what form Google Flights will ultimately take.

It’s worth noting that Google Hotels is designed much differently than Google Flights right out of the gate. For example, Google is charging for ad placement/booking links on Google Hotels right now, and most of those links appear dominated by OTAs (search for hotels in L.A., for instance, and many booking links don’t go directly to the hotel’s booking page, but rather go to major OTAs Expedia or Priceline).

But, at least as far as Google Flights goes, Cassel has initial confidence that Google will side with airlines.

“I do believe that Google—they always seem to prove this—they do understand user experience, they provide phenomenally effective and fast high-performance tools,” Cassel said. “Users may trust Google provides better experience for (searching flights), which ultimately will run more traffic search queries on Google, which ultimately will result in more traffic for airlines.

“This, to me, makes sense for Google because this is Google driving volume through their paid search, which ultimately results in higher costs per click. They grow their revenue through their ads, not by trying to be a pure-play metasearch. I think it’s always going to be a hybrid. They usually do things that way. They’re not so direct.”

Either way, it may be a lesson for airlines. While hospitality companies and OTAs are up to speed on digital marketing and marketing technology (and probably even ahead of the curve), airlines are behind OTAs and metasearch, Cassel said. The reasons for this aren’t abundantly clear, but Cassel said that it could have to do with airlines a) being more concerned with airport operations and, you know, safely flying a giant airplane; and b) the importance placed on quarterly financial reports.

“The investment to move into these (digital) channels may be considerable,” Cassel said. “Realizing you may have to a take a hit for a little while you make this migration to be in a mobile environment…there isn’t a lot of patience and tolerance for that (in the industry).”

EveryMundo offers something called AirTRFX, which essentially creates a dedicated webpage for every one of the airline’s routes and markets, driving traffic, conversion and revenue growth through online distribution channels. For example, let’s say an airline operates about 30,000 routes. Multiply that by 100 “site additions” (or combinations of language and country) and you have three million dedicated webpages populating the vast online marketplace, helping airlines be competitive with major OTAs.

The initial reaction to Google Flights’ update was understandably massive (Cassel used the words “fear and loathing”), but—if managed according to Cassel’s theory—Google Flights could be a great help to airlines that have been losing direct bookings.

As for Google Hotels, that remains to be seen.

But, safe to say, if you’re a hotel company or airline that has yet to catch on to the whole digital marketing craze, it may be time for you to catch up.

This piece originally ran on TravelPulse.com and is published with permission.

Executive Summary

Seasonal influenza has begun to increase in the Northern Hemisphere, where influenza season typically peaks between December and March. However, the current influenza season has increased more rapidly and earlier than usual in North America, while Europe has seen medium-to-low influenza activity so far. Seasonal influenza can be prevented by receiving the annual influenza vaccine, which protects against three strains of influenza: one strain each of A(H1N1), A(H3N2), and an influenza B strain. Quadrivalent vaccination, offering protection against an additional influenza B strain, is also available in some regions.

Key Judgments:

• The US reports intense and widespread influenza activity.

• Canada reports almost half of infections in the province of Quebec.

• Europe reports increasing, but currently low-to-medium, activity.

• Spain and the UK are reporting the highest numbers of influenza cases in several years.

• Vaccination remains the best approach to avoid infection.

North America

During the week ending Dec. 20, 125 influenza outbreaks were reported in seven provinces in Canada, 94 of them in longterm care facilities. National public health officials reported that influenza cases have mostly occurred in the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. Increasing influenza activity has been reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in Saskatchewan. Furthermore, health officials in Quebec announced Dec. 18 that the influenza season had started earlier than expected and will likely be more intense than in previous years. Quebec reported 1,238 new infections, out of 2,740 total for all of Canada, during the week ending Dec. 20.

In the US, health officials have reported widespread influenza activity in 43 states, with 29 states reporting high influenzalike illness patient visits during the week ending Dec. 27. Although the proportion of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza had surpassed the epidemic threshold during the week ending Dec. 20, those numbers dropped below the threshold during the following week.

The most common strain this season is the influenza A(H3N2) virus, accounting for more than 95 percent of reported US cases. Unfortunately, most of the infections have been caused by an A(H3N2) strain that is slightly different from the one in this season's vaccine, which may compromise its effectiveness. Still, vaccination is highly recommended, even if a person has already had the flu this season. The most updated vaccine effectiveness studies will be available from the CDC in mid-to-late January. Patient visits and hospitalizations are almost at same level as the peak of the 2012-13 season, the most recent A(H3N2)-predominant season, but higher than the 2013-2014 season, which was an A(H1N1)- predominant season. This matches historical trends, in which A(H3N2) strains typically cause more severe influenza seasons than A(H1N1) strains. The CDC predicts that pneumonia- or influenza-related deaths will increase again before the season is over.

In both the US and Canada, numerous hospitals have implemented restricted visitor policies to reduce the number of people capable of spreading influenza in a healthcare setting.

Mexico, on the other hand, reported a 42-percent decrease in influenza cases as compared to the same period in the 2013-2014 season, as of the last week in December. In Mexico, the dominant strain is A(H3N2).

Europe

For the first week in 2015, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported medium-to-low influenza activity. More countries have started reporting an increase in activity compared to the previous week. The ECDC also reported that 11 of the 13 countries whose data was received have influenza A(H3N2) as the dominant strain.

Although many countries report to this agency, there is a delay in data availability; some countries have more updated information on their own disease surveillance websites.

England reported 74 outbreaks during first week in 2015, mostly in care homes. The most recent major influenza season in the UK occurred in winter 2010-2011. Although the current outbreak has not reached those levels, rates so far are higher than the latest three seasons. Health authorities have stated that approximately half of reported cases are A(H3N2), infections, but it is unclear which strain will dominate this season.

In Spain, health officials have reported a marked increase of patients in emergency rooms with influenza-like symptoms.

Some hospitals in Galicia (Hospital do Salnes in Galicia), Madrid (Hospital Universitario de Fuenlabrada), and Toledo (Hospital Virgen de la Salud) have reported considerable disruptions in their ability to care for patients in a timely manner.

Several health institutions have been asking patients only to go to the hospital if it is really an emergency, and to try to visit their primary care physicians instead. Health officials report Asturias and Galicia have widespread activity. Madrid is experiencing localized activity only, though at its highest levels in three years.

Seasonal Influenza

"Seasonal influenza" refers to a variety of human influenza viruses that follow seasonal trends in specific geographic regions. These viruses peak during the winter months in temperate areas and cycle year-round in tropical areas. Seasonal influenza viruses include several strains of influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B, as well as the influenza A(H1N1) virus that caused the 2009 pandemic, and has replaced the previous A(H1N1) seasonal strain. Seasonal influenza viruses do not include avian influenza viruses such as A(H5N1) or novel influenza viruses such as the A(H3N2)v strain linked to swine in the US since 2011. These types of influenza are monitored and reported separately.

Seasonal influenza viruses generally cause mild-to-moderate illnesses, but can be severe and even life-threatening in individuals with certain underlying health conditions. Influenza is not the same as a cold. Symptoms of influenza include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fatigue; in some cases, influenza also causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most individuals recover from an influenza infection in a few days, and most infections resolve within two weeks. However, some cases can develop complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus or ear infections. Some of these complications can be life-threatening, especially in individuals with certain health conditions.

Severe influenza infections and potentially life-threatening complications are more common in individuals with certain chronic medical conditions.

Influenza is primarily spread by droplets released when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or speak. Other susceptible individuals can then breathe in these droplets and become infected. Less often, individuals can contract influenza by touching a surface or object containing the influenza virus and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose. Individuals with influenza are contagious for a period beginning one day before the onset of symptoms and five-seven days after symptoms begin. This means that it is possible to transmit influenza to others before the patient realizes he is sick.

Conclusion and Advice

Like all respiratory diseases, individuals can reduce their risk of influenza infection by taking strict respiratory hygiene precautions: washing hands regularly and avoiding large crowds or apparently sick individuals. However, because influenza can be spread before symptoms are apparent, these measures are only partially effective. Even though the 2014-2015 season vaccine may be less effective than in previous years, all individuals - unless medically contraindicated

- should be vaccinated. These immunizations - which are available in either inactivated or live attenuated versions and can be delivered intramuscularly, intradermally, or nasally - protect against influenza infection within 2-3 weeks of immunization. Experts reformulate the seasonal influenza vaccine every year to account for changes in the influenza viruses active in the community, and the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine depends on how well-matched the vaccine is to active influenza viruses.

Influenza does not need to reach pandemic status to affect business continuity; seasonal influenza accounts for USD billions per year in economic losses in the US alone. The most useful resource for a company to minimize potential losses is a thorough business continuity plan. Disruptions should be expected not only in internal sectors, but also in immediate and local infrastructure. In the case of an influenza or other type of pandemic, these preparations are crucial. One of the key functions of the iJET Integrated Intelligence Operations is to provide clients with resources and design and tailor pandemic planning to their particular needs.

How well do your employees follow company guidelines for business travel? Are there areas in your travel program where improved compliance could save you more?

As demand for air travel and accommodation increases and market conditions continue to change, traveler compliance will become even more important for corporates keen to maintain control of their travel spend.Compliance however, has a broader focus than just being about whether or not your employees are following policy guidelines. Compliance also relates to metric and culture, both of which can help to generate travel cost savings in different ways. If you can't measure how compliant your travelers are, or you're unsure how to enhance your corporate culture, improving your company's overall travel performance and ultimately your bottom line could be a challenge.

What's the value of compliance?

FCm research shows that by optimizing your travel policy design and improving traveler compliance via a travel management company (TMC) provided online booking tool, corporates can save more than 30 percent on their travel spend. A lack of compliance among your traveling employees can result in significant 'missed savings' through unauthorized and/or non-compliant bookings for air, hotel and ground travel, which over the course of a year, or even a few months, can significantly erode potential savings.

Assessing compliance

When it comes to improving traveler compliance corporates need to know what areas of their travel policy are capable of delivering maximum return for best practice traveler behavior. While the drivers will be different for every company, there are a few common policy items that can be used to measure how compliance impacts travel spend including:Advance bookingsAn FCm study showed that companies could save on average up to 72 percent on the cost of their tickets by booking 21 days or more in advance of their departure date. Although these savings are dependent on the time of travel and which airline you fly with, significant savings can be made by encouraging your travelers to book as far in advance as their business travel allows.Restricted airfaresMake sure your policy has clear recommendations or a mandate around restricted airfares. If your travelers know their plans aren't going to change, encourage the use of restricted airfares for both the inbound and outbound flights or if they have to make flight changes in the afternoon, they should be booking a restricted fare for the outbound leg and flexible ticket for the inbound leg. High levels of compliance and understanding of this policy item can save companies around 10 percent of their air spend.Preferred suppliersProperly educate your travelers on what is expected of them when it comes to booking through preferred suppliers and your business will have a greater chance of converting negotiated discounts and preferred supplier pricing into actual savings. Your supplier preferences need to be clearly articulated and reiterated on a regular basis to your employees.Travel class/categoryHow well do your employees follow your policies for class of air travel for domestic, short-haul and long-haul travel? And what does your policy recommend if your preferred hotel or room category is unavailable? Corporates need to have clear policies for travel class, category and preferred suppliers in the event that preferences are unavailable or there are issues with delayed approval processes.Booking channelsMandate that all of your bookings go through the one TMC and you can actively improve compliance by increasing the monitoring, tracking, visibility and accountability that comes from the expertise of having one travel manager to oversee your activity.

Improving compliance

There is a range of strategies that corporates can use to boost company-wide compliance. These range from policy consulting, traveler training and education, incentive based rewards for compliant behavior, TMC provided online booking tools and data analysis designed to identify opportunities for missed savings (e.g. exception reporting).FCm's online booking tool has a robust best fare of day capability, which captures missed savings and traveler details when non-compliant fares are booked. Best practice booking behavior and travel times can also deliver savings.

Addressing non-compliance

If non-compliance is an ongoing issue, corporates can adopt any number of strategies from up-front traveler education, information sessions or for repeat offenders written warnings, the circulation of repeat offender lists and or individual accountability for repeated policy offenses. If there is no redress for out-of-policy bookings, your policy has no impact and no authority. FCm can help you establish a strategy for policy enforcement that is tailored to suit your corporate culture.

The balancing act

To generate additional savings through improved levels of compliance, corporates should try to achieve a good balance between enforcement and traveler needs.If there is an area where you are having serious compliance issues it may be due to more emotive circumstances e.g. one of your preferred hotels may not be conveniently located or does not meet traveler standards for safety, cleanliness and amenities. While aggressive compliance enforcement may help to achieve your financial objectives, it may limit your company's ability to attract and retain top performers that are used to a more flexible approach to travel policies. FCm suggests working with your travel manager to determine how policy enforcement is best approached for your organization.

Compliance checklist

  • Define your travel policy.
  • Make your policy manageable and measurable.
  • Communicate and educate.
  • Promote compliance through booking processes.
  • Leverage TMC intelligence.

Although kidnapping of Americans abroad gets all the publicity, other risks await business travelers. Here’s what a business manager needs to know before sending an employee overseas.

Before Traveling

Research. Before a trip abroad, travelers should gain a general understanding of the country’s cultural, economic and political situation. The U.S. State Department issues Consular Information Sheets for every country of the world with information on the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, any areas of instability, and the location of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country. Travelers should also check the State Department’s current list of travel advisories before leaving at www.state.gov/travel.

Learn something about local customs and cultural taboos. Knowledge of local customs and language can help business travelers win friends and avoid causing offense. For example, many Arabic cultures consider it an insult to show someone the soles of your shoes, yet Americans often sit cross-legged with their soles showing. Knowledge of the local language—even basics such as “please” and “thank you”—can go a long way to show respect in the host country.

Learn something about local laws. While in a foreign country, travelers are subject to its laws. For example, many countries have very strict laws about carrying drugs—even ones prescribed by a doctor. Carry only the amount needed in the original container. Consider carrying a copy of your written prescription and your doctor’s phone number, in case you run out.

Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for health warnings and vaccination recommendations for the countries you will be visiting at www.cdc.gov/travel. Some vaccines may require planning well in advance before the date of travel.  

Pack with safety in mind. Where possible, travelers should try to blend in with the locals or to be as inconspicuous as possible. Avoid bright colors, designer labels, ostentatious jewelry, expensive luggage—anything that suggests wealth or screams “American.”

Plan travel arrangements carefully. The safest floors are the second and third floors of most hotels. Staying in a ground-floor room makes you vulnerable to break-ins, while upper floors might be out of the reach of fire-fighting equipment. Avoid rooms with shared balconies. Obtain a valid passport and visas, if needed. Make sure to fill in the emergency information page of your passport. Leave copies of your itinerary, passport and airline tickets with a relative or friend and with someone in the office.

Register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration Web site. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html.

Check insurance coverages. In general, workers’ compensation applies to injuries occurring in the jurisdiction(s) named in your policy. In some countries, visitors are entitled to free emergency medical treatment; however, standards might not be up to those of U.S. hospitals. A separate foreign workers’ compensation policy will cover your employees for work-related injuries incurred overseas; some will also cover injuries incurred on personal time while on an overseas business assignment. Look for a policy that covers medical evacuation services, which can cost $50,000 or more.

Companies that send workers overseas should also consider buying kidnap and ransom insurance. Virtually unheard of in the U.S., kidnap for ransom is growing in certain parts of the world. In 2004, Mark Hall, a security expert interviewed by CNN, estimated there were 8,000-10,000 kidnaps for ransom reported every year. But many of these crimes are never reported, either due a company’s reluctance to bring attention to its operations, an insurer’s hesitance to advertise that it will negotiate with kidnappers or pressure from local officials.

Kidnap and ransom insurance covers ransom payments for your employees who are kidnapped. Perhaps more importantly, though, this coverage gives employers access to experts in hostage negotiation who can help handle a kidnapping situation more effectively.

Despite the fact that kidnap for ransom is a growing phenomenon, your overseas workers are much more likely to run into more mundane problems, such as illness or injury, which could just as easily occur at home.

 

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