Taking the High Road

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It's your third business trip this month. Your flight has been delayed (again!), and you can't seem to shake that bleary-eyed feeling you get from sleeping in strange hotel beds. As you finally lug your laptop, briefcase, and carry-on through the jetway, all you can think about is getting home to your family and kids, and back into a regular routine.

You're not alone. For many professionals today, traveling on business has almost becomea second career. The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) reports that in 1996, a record number of U.S. adults - 42.9 million - took at least one business trip, up 12 percent from 1994, and 21 percent from 1991. In 1998, nearly 22 percent of all trips - or more than 275 million - were business-related, according to the National Business Travel Association (NBTA). Worldwide, business travel is expected to grow 4.4 percent this year. The bill is likely to grow, as well: In 1982, corporate America dropped $70 billion on business travel. By 1997, that figure had soared to $175 billion. With appealing demographics, business travelers make perfect customers for various products and services - if, that is, you can track them down in between flights, phone calls, and PowerPoint presentations. Today, innovative companies are trying new ways to appeal to road warriors - and tap their fat wall! ets.

And those wallets are fat. According to the TIA, the average business traveler in 1996 was a well-educated, professional, married male about 40 years old, earning $68,900. More than half of business travelers had kids (51 percent), and most (55 percent) lived in at least dual-income households. Roughly 60 percent of business travelers in this year's YP&B/Yankelovich Partners National Business Travel Monitor said they flew on a scheduled airline on one or more trips, while 56 percent drove a personal or company car. Being behind the wheel is more appealing than being stuck in coach: Half of the respondents in the Monitor survey said they would avoid airline travel if they could accomplish business without it, compared to 44 percent in 1998. Thirty-nine percent don't sleep well on business trips, down 1 percent from 1998, and 39 percent feel more stressed out, a 4 percent increase from last year.

Airplane travel isn't helping their blood pressure much. A new study by University of Washington psychology professor Irwin Sarason and doctoral student Jonathan Bricker estimates that 5,000 incidents of stress-related violence occur at airports and on airplanes each year. To measure stress levels of frequent business travelers, Sarason and Bricker devised an "Air Travel Stress Scale," which rated how upset participants became by events such as a late plane, missing a connecting flight, waiting for a shuttle, at a check-in counter, or being given wrong directions. Participants were also measured for general levels of anxiety and anger. The participants, who typically were young, unmarried, college-educated males with incomes ranging from $60,000 to $80,000, took an average of 21 domestic business trips within the past year.

Not surprisingly, men in the study who were prone to anger became even angrier when flying to unfamiliar destinations, says Bricker. Anxiety-prone women tended to grow more anxious when flying to new places, he adds. Loss of control over travel situations, such as flight delays and airport crowds, as well as personal safety concerns, were key factors in travel-related stress, according to the study.

Retailers and marketers alike, however, are offering some hope to harried travelers. Those carrying mobile offices can now pick up supplies such as paper, file folders, and presentation materials before boarding at Staples, Inc.'s new airport stores. The first store opened last month in the Philadelphia International Airport, and two more are scheduled to open on the East coast before year's end. Along with a traditional retail layout, the airport stores also offer shoppers a kiosk linked to Staples.com and a direct phone line to a Staples catalog representative, as well as self-serve copy and faxing services. "Our core business is business people," says spokesperson Christina Erridge. "Airports have a large number of business travelers, so we're reaching customers in a place that we normally couldn't reach them, while they're away from their supply cabinets and the office services of their home bases."

Denver-based Get2Net hopes to alleviate one problem wired business travelers often face at the airport: no dataportsto power up the laptop and check e-mail. Serving as an alternative to laptops and cell phones, the company offers free Internet access at freestanding NetStations, placed near busy gate areas, as well as tabletop NetSets, located in bars and restaurants. Although some people might prefer to hook up to a dataport, says manager of marketing communications Pam Osborne, the convenience of quickly checking e-mail or the Internet on Get2Net before a flight holds a lot of appeal for busy travelers.

So far, Get2Net has set up 125 terminals in ten major airports and eight roadside travel plazas, with another 180 units scheduled to be up and running by the end of the year. In all, Get2Net hopes to have 6,000 terminals across the country by 2003. Besides airport lobbies and restaurants, possible venues for Get2Net terminals include hotel convention centers, bookstores, coffee shops, and shopping malls.

Get2Net's NetStations average about 60,000 unique users per month, says Osborne, totaling more than 225,000 participants so far this year; about 60 percent of users are business travelers. Visitors to the kiosks are prompted to answer a few survey questions at the beginning of their 15-minute sessions, many of which are advertiser-sponsored, in order to earn their free access. Compiled answers to questions such as "How do you normally access the Internet?" and "What rental car or lodging do you prefer?" have allowed the company to track users' buying patterns and to market advertising opportunities to a growing number of sponsors, including CBS MarketWatch.com and Trip.com. Session sponsorships run $34 per thousand views, while banner ads cost $40 per thousand.

The business traveler is "a perfect target for anyone who is marketing banking products or financial news," says CBS MarketWatch.com vice president of marketing Michele Chaboudy. "[They're] very targeted for us, with high demographics and income level, and an interest in financial information." CBS MarketWatch.com has seen click-through rates of 5.6 percent for its sponsored-session "channel" buttons, and a .06 percent rate for banner ads. In addition to session sponsorships and banner ads, advertisers can also put their message on placards that are situated on the kiosks. Placards run about $3 per thousand passersby.

Besides providing market research information, Get2Net users can also opt to receive information via e-mail on various subjects, from software to investing to Internet shopping, as well as the company's newsletter. The opt-in lists are rented to third parties through New York City-based NetCreations, an e-mail list broker. Although the focus until now has been on acquiring locations, the company is starting to turn its attention to the potential of its database. Recently, Get2Net introduced a system that has users log in to each session with a unique name and password, allowing the company to better target advertising and offer more personalized service. A loyalty program is set to launch in the next few months, in which frequent users can earn points toward merchandise and airline miles.

Another marketer has already begun to mine its information on business travelers. To cater to loyal clients, New York's Manhattan East Suite Hotels has implemented a customer preference database, designed by Lanham, Maryland-based Group 1 Software, to use across the marketing and operating systems for all ten of its New York properties, as well as its corporate offices.

Under the new system, nicknamed MAGIC ("Marketing and Guest Information Center"), personnel in reservations, housekeeping, and the front desk collect standard information on guests such as name, address, telephone number, room preference, and which newspaper they like to read, as well as more detailed tidbits like birthdays, food and beverage choices, whether they've requested extra pillows, or whether they prefer to have a suite's sofa-bed made up. These preferences are then overlaid with demographic data such as age, income, ethnicity, and household configuration to better understand the hotel's guests. Since the program's debut in April, information has been collected on 54 percent of the hotel's 210,000 records, says Priscilla Hurley, director of advertising for Manhattan East. Roughly 65 percent of the hotel's guests are business travelers.

"A lot of hotels keep wonderful records about their customers, but if the customer goes to another hotel in the chain, they're like a new customer," Hurley says. With MAGIC, frequent guests of Manhattan East's Dumont Plaza location, for example, receive the same high level of service if they stay at one of the chain's other locations. "The Shelburne [Murray Hill] can take as good care of you as the Dumont - they know what newspaper you like, that it's your sixth visit, that you like a high floor," says Hurley.

Since the database is relatively new, it's too early to tell if Manhattan East's service enhancements have affected return rates. But MAGIC has already helped the hotelier better target mailing lists and marketing efforts geodemographically. "If we decided to get more weekend business for one of our hotels, we would go in and see where the weekend business is coming from," Hurley explains. "Maybe there are some feeder markets that we haven't currently been advertising in. We might do a blitz [of direct mail] in Boston, and see if we can drive more business to the hotel."

Manhattan East tested the database in May, sending out a direct mailing to about 23,000 guests who had stayed with the hotel within the past year. The mailing offered guests a choice of free parking, a full breakfast for two, 1,000 frequent flyer miles or a $20 discount off the room for booking a weekend stay. The test was designed to build a profile of guests who responded to serve as a baseline in order to better target future mailings, says marketing information manager James Zito.

Hurley hopes that the real-time, service-oriented database will help bring business travelers back time and again, not just for meetings and conferences, but for vacations and weekend getaways as well. For stressed-out business travelers, getting away to a place where everybody knows not only your name, but what brand of toothpaste you just ran out of, might be the most relaxing vacation of all.

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