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Business Travel Down, But Business Travelers Not

business-travel.jpgThe adult entertainment industry isn't the only one feeling snubbed by Congress: Travel and tourism also wants a break, at least as far as travel-bashing is concerned.  

That's because business travel (and all travel, really) is way, way down. Some of that is because companies are trying to save money; but another reason stems from policymakers' response to allegedly over-the-top junkets by firms like AIG, whose mismanagement of bailout money (after receiving billions, the company sent execs to a plush resort in California, where they reportedly spent more than $440,000) fueled cries against further "despicable" behavior. In this case, the criticisms may have been deserved, but companies preferring to err on the side of caution have made an unwitting victim of an entire sector of the economy.

Locations like the Disney theme parks, Miami and Las Vegas--sites of legitimate conferences and business events--are taking a serious hit. And this has subsequently affected employment numbers. AFP reported that approximately 200,000 industry jobs were lost in 2008, with another 247,000 expected to go in 2009.

In a Washington Post article last week, Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, noted that more than 400 business meetings had been canceled recently. And Jay Witzel, the chairman and CEO of Carlson Hotels (which owns the Radisson chain), deplored how the crisis was causing valid travel to be questioned. "Business travel is not optional, nor is it a luxury. There is no substitute for face to face, hand to hand and heart to heart meetings," he said.

On the flipside, business travelers themselves seem fairly content. In a new Embassy Suites Hotel "Business Traveler Survey," 78 percent rated their last business travel experience as enjoyable, and though 51 percent are on the road less, those who do travel are streamlining expenses by booking better-value hotels and flying coach class. In fact, more respondents declared the the value of a hotel's booking price (79 percent) "Important" than staying at a four-star hotel (32 percent).

Additionally, there was evidence that traveling is never glamorous, anyway:

  • 33 percent of surveyed travelers have spilled food or drink on their clothes en route to a meeting (58 percent suggest packing an extra outfit for untimely accidents).
  • 41 percent of travelers recommend setting two alarms the morning of an important function (9 percent have overslept and missed events entirely).
  • 42 percent advise changing into business clothes at the meeting site when possible ... but one should take extra care with presentation (4 percent admitted to arriving with their zippers down).

And here's a real treat for the cash-strapped: Launched just last week, Voyij was created to help travelers with flexible itineraries find the best discounts. Just input a departing city and your general travel dates and start your deal-shopping. It might not work for business meetings, but when every penny counts, perhaps vacations would benefit from an equally cost-conscious approach.

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.
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