Business Travel Is Rebounding, But Where Does That Leave the Aging Traveler?

As Entrepreneur magazine reported late last year, "travel and tourism are back, and, by the end of 2011, will be better than ever."

"Business travel is bouncing back" is how Scott Mayerowitz recently phrased it, pointing out that U.S. companies are forecast to spend five % more on travel in 2011 than they did last year. "You need to have face time" is how one executive put it.

Business travel had dropped 20 % during the 2007-09 recession. But now, says writer Bruce C. Smith, "companies are beginning to spend again on travel because sometimes business-to-business communication just has to be face to face." Smith reports that the business travel rebound began in 2010, when overall spending on travel by business grew about 2.3 percent, in contrast to the 14.1 % drop in 2009--that, according to the National Business Travel Association (NBTA, which on February 3 was renamed the Global Business Travel Association, or GBTA).

Indeed, Associated Press reported last year that "United and Continental Airlines are counting on more business travelers ... to make their $3 billion merger pay." This trend of the rebound of business travel is intersecting with another important trend, a population with a longer life expectancy. I wonder what the revived travel industry is doing to meet the needs of the older business traveler. In fact, The New York Times recently reviewed the entrepreneurial opportunities that the trend of a graying population presents to business. Clearly, the baby boomer generation is seeking innovative and creative travel options as they enter retirement age--and are not retiring.

People are living--and working--longer than ever. That trend is translating into new travel phenomena that include business travelers taking their families on the road with them, as MSNBC.com told about last year. What we are seeing is travelers with less time but more money, and a desire to share time on the road with family members or a significant other. In fact, a 2008 survey conducted by Egencia, the corporate travel arm of Expedia, found that 59 % of business travelers were joined by friends or family on work trips.

So what are travel providers doing to adapt their services to meet the needs of the older business traveler? Well, along with growth of international and regional airline routes, greater in-flight Internet connectivity, and better Wi-Fi access in airports, I like the trend toward improving the airline lounge experience. Lounges not only offer full suites of business services but a place to rest and refresh.

Fodor's likes the fact that boarding passes will become paperless for business travelers, while all passengers will see more federal rules that will help prevent incidents in which carriers hold fliers on the tarmac for more than three hours. Other good trends: that travel agents are back in vogue and that businesses may resume letting employees step up a star in their hotel stays. On the flipside, car rental fleets are aging even as car rental prices are spiking. Still, that may make travel by taxi competitive.

One service dearly desired by the three-quarters of road warriors of all ages (according to a survey by the Business Travel & Meetings Show held recently in London) is child-free flights--an as-yet unexplored niche which, frankly, I would like to see offered among flight options.

Amanda Rogers at FlightView Inc. says that over at the airlines: look for fewer flights, more fare hikes, fewer customer service personnel, and more ancillary costs. USAToday.com's David Grossman chimes in that business travelers young and old will face continued security hassles, more ancillary fees, and higher fares due to rising oil prices.

"On the Road" columnist Joe Sharkey agrees that the future isn't rosy for business travelers taking to the sky. Planes are full from front to back, airports are just as crowded, and customer service continues to decline on the ground and in the air. The news that Boeing is rolling out a futuristic new cabin experience which, Sharkey said, "will make better ergonomic use of existing interior space," has to be welcome news to business travelers of any age.

BTW--About.com's resident business travel expert David Kelly offers excellent tips for the older traveler on how to avoid that slightly deadly occupational hazard of business fliers, DVT, or deep-vein thrombosis. Staying active, booking an aisle seat, and taking a break -- all good advice -- and all should be second nature knowledge for the veteran road warrior. Learn if you haven't yet.

That brings up the question, what will business travel look like in the future? CNN Business Traveller's Jim Boulden explored the hotel room of the future (a curved-wall mock-up complete with voice-command sensors and soothing colored lights) at a research project site in Germany where hotel chains can test out new ideas of what could be. When it comes to the airlines, Jay Boehmer cautioned that the future is unpredictable, noting: "The 'new recovery,' like everything in the airline business, remains tenuous, and airline CEOs are rightfully wary of what the future holds, knowing that all it takes to spoil the recovery is a spike in fuel costs, a new entrant that foists unsustainable pricing on them, a second dip into recession or some other unforeseen event." I couldn't agree more.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com

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