Boosting business: ways hotels can welcome back business travelers

By Gary Steffen

Two years after the pandemic began and in-person meetings, conferences and even in-office work was curtailed, business travel is continuing to bounce back. With more than three-quarters of business travelers agreeing it is more important than ever to bring back business travel according to the U.S. Travel Association, hotels meeting the new demands and needs of today’s next generation of business travelers will be the quickest to welcome the masses. Here’s how the industry can be ready for what’s on the horizon.

Digital technology is a must
An extremely significant shift took place over the last two years involving touch. Travelers began to really appreciate touchless experiences such as credit card tap-and-go payments and the ability to use their mobile phone to check-in and go directly to their room with their phone serving as their room key. Offering travelers more ways to use their digital devices to stay touch-free can be a huge, yet simple win for hotel properties.

Another important aspect is accommodating the expanded bandwidth of travelers looking to stay in touch with offices and teams even from afar. Providing and maintaining WiFi is already an integral part of business meetings and conferences, but state-of-the-art technology that goes above and beyond can give hotels an edge in helping travelers get and stay connected.

Elevate meeting and event space
To attract meeting and event planners, the latest technology may be one triumph, but the complete picture is elevating the space to inspire thinking and connections. Travelers today crave exceptional meetings and events venues with more natural light, “wow-factor” indoor and outdoor spaces that people want to spend time in and a focus on design blending form and function—and they want it to be sustainable.

As companies make pledges to reduce their carbon footprint, meeting planners will award conferences and events to those that can support their mission. Hotels can help planners see specific metrics and meet sustainability goals, alluring more eco-friendly businesses.

Capitalize on bleisure travel
With the increase in remote work, the lines between business and leisure travel have blurred. Where hotels once focused on keeping business travelers over weekends with their families, now they can target leisure travelers looking to extend vacations into the weekday for remote business at the property. To do this, hotels need to become a destination experience for guests so people want to stay.

Don’t skimp on wellness
The focus on wellness continues to be a trend many travelers are incorporating into their trips.  Outdoor activities and in-home fitness have become increasingly more important during the pandemic. Hoteliers need to provide opportunities for meetings and events attendees to maintain their wellness experience while on the road. That is certainly through food and beverage, the fitness center and the spa, but it’s also through additional offerings, like outdoor yoga or a Tuesday group run in the morning. Those are part of the experience business travelers crave as they combine the need for wellness with human connections. Suddenly, guests are meeting people at yoga classes in the morning.

Wellness also means creating warm and inviting spaces for guests. This is especially true of the guestroom. Creating a space that travelers can fully relax in at the end of a day of meetings is key. It’s a contemporary elevated design and touches like an upgraded in-room espresso coffee, a bed so soft they can’t wait to fall into it and fantastic water pressure in the shower.

Human connection is critical
Coming out of the pandemic, business and leisure travelers have missed human connection and it’s more important than ever to have the ability to meet and connect with people. In fact, that human connection is the heart of hospitality and what drives our industry’s desire to create great meetings and events for travelers.

Business travelers are no longer captive audiences who never leave a property. They are travelers looking for ways to make the most out of being away from home and to connect with other people. Hotels must satiate that craving for lively destination spaces where guests can interact with fellow travelers, such as lobby bars and restaurants. Delivering an exceptional food and beverage experience that even locals want to partake in will make hotels successful.

At Signia by Hilton San Jose, for example, our food and beverage strategy teams create concepts that cater almost equally to locals as to guests of hotels. We know we’ve created a successful environment when locals are coming in, and we do that by studying what resonates in the local market and creating a unique food and beverage experience. Successful F&B is in the details, from menu to uniforms, lighting to ambiance—a blending of the senses so a meal becomes an experience. It’s also important in meetings and events space. Travelers want breakfast buffets and luncheons to go above and beyond traditional catering services.

Personally, I love business travel and can’t wait to enjoy a meal or grab a drink with colleagues I haven’t seen in a couple of years and participate in team meetings face to face. At the end of the day, it is about the human element of connecting with colleagues and peers. This is why I feel business travel will come back. Missing the human connections throughout the last couple of years has proven how important they truly are. I’m excited to travel again. You should be too.

Gary Steffen is global category head, Hilton full service, and global brand head, Signia by Hilton.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.