Politics and Your Travels

 

By Robert Mcgarvey 

New research from the Chief Marketing Officer Council’s GeoBranding Center and AIG Travel slaps me in the face with the unexpected. Just 8% of us take politics, ethics, human rights, and prejudices into account when choosing a destination.

92% do not apparently give a fig about ethics or decency when picking a destination.

Color me shocked.

About one fourth of the planet consists of places I would not go due to politics – Tibet, Burma, Sudan, Syria, Honduras, Saudi Arabia among them.

Nor would I stay at a Trump hotel. I would not even go to a meeting in one.

I do not seek to impose my views on others. But they are my views and I try to live them.

Part of living them is knowing where I won’t go.

Where won’t you go?

My list doesn’t have to be yours. But we all need a list of where we won’t go. And we need to know why we won’t.

Some years ago, much of the world united in boycotting South Africa. That included travel.  And when the country changed, the boycott ceased.

Some need similar today, Why isn’t it happening?

Ethics are not the province of a political party or creed or nation. But ethics also are quite clear cut. There usually isn’t much doubt or indecision. Some place or somebody is good, or bad, and that is that.

As Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living and core to living an examined life has to be integrating ethics into our decisions.

There are some countries and places that just are wrong. And I don’t want to support them with my time, presence, or money.

Security, stability and friendliness of a location rank as important to 36% of us in making travel choices, although I admit to some puzzlement how so many more say they value stability and security than ethics.  

Safety matters, absolutely. I would not go to Pakistan not because it is too lacking in ethics but because it just is too dangerous for me.  Its ethics are borderline but I don’t want to go there because of the lack of safety. If it were safer I’d have to give a harder think to ethics. But I don’t have to.

More puzzlement is that many in this poll cited anxieties about dangers as a top detractor to travel.

But maybe dangers to others – because of ethnic, religious or political differences – just aren’t a worry to some.

Nearly 50% of travelers told the pollsters that the internet and device connectivity make travel better and I agree but part of that better, in my mind, is more knowledge.  Including knowledge about ethics and local conditions. 

34% say that loyalty programs and perks matter when making travel decisions and that suggests a cruel dictatorship with a lavish loyalty program just might be fine for many of us.

Socrates never said ethical decision making would be easy. And of course he died because of his stubborn determination to hold to an ethical code.

Plato, Socrates’ student, enumerated four virtues- wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. When it comes to judging a place, justice has to be a paramount factor. Countries without justice are not places I want to visit.

Good news may be found on the generational front. Many millennials are keenly set on doing travel that is more responsible, more environmentally sound and, yes, more ethical. There is plenty of evidence to support the belief that millennials are rewriting the travel rules for the better, for all of us.  Just look at the wave of resorts that have banned plastic straws, for instance, and there is no good reason to insist on plastic straws. But it is millennials to whom we owe thanks for getting them banned.

Maybe millennials will succeed too in bringing us all to a higher state of ethical travel.

We can all hope. 

How Much Free Time Is There on A Business Trip?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

A survey from Jos. A. Bank, the clothier, offers up some of the most insightful data about business travel that I can recall seeing – starting with how little free time we have on a trip.

Per Jos. A. Bank we get about two hours a day of free time – and we log 14 hour work days.  Which is pretty much my personal reality on business trips.

As for the free time it amounts to one hour, fifty-five minutes daily for exploring the city, networking, etc. The rest of the day is prescribed – meetings, meals, and the other activities that fill days on the road.

It’s a bleak picture.  But also spot on.

Color me surprised by the accuracy of this portrait and, no, I’ve never shopped at Jos. A. Bank.

But I devour data about business travel and most of it, much of the time seems fictitious.

Yes, Jos. A. Bank is shilling suits – the survey even served up silliness such as this quote attributed to company president Mary Beth Blake: “While traveling for business can yield some unexpected obstacles, the one thing you should be able to rely on is your suit.”

It also noted that we fret about our clothes on road. 57% of us, said Jos. A. Bank, “have trouble keeping their clothes and suits tidy and unwrinkled while on a trip.”

Uh, okay, sure. (And, nope, I can’t recall worrying about wrinkles on the road. But maybe I’m just a slob.)

Let’s move on because there are lots of other insights that are quite to the point.

46% of us complain about the hassles of dealing with airports.

39% worry about how to stay fit and healthy while traveling.

36% say living out of a suitcase is a challenge.

And 34% say they work longer/harder on the road.

All sounds smart to me. Especially the observation that we work longer/harder when we travel.  When I first started to travel on business, decades ago, business travel was a cake walk – and often we took off the day after we returned home, just to catch up with life on the homefront and nobody complained.  Today is a very different environment. We fly out Sunday night (on our own time!) and basically are on the move from 8 a.m. Monday until we get home, typically late at night. It’s a grind and it’s tiring.

Why do we put up with it?

Partly because it may be mandatory. Also because there are benefits, tangible plusses to going on the road.

As for the benefits of business travel, Jos. A. Bank reports that we said we like air miles (48%) and hotel loyalty points (53%).

But the biggest single benefit – 56% of us say so – is seeing a new place.

And 55% like meeting people face to face.

49% say they enjoy good food and drink on the road. They must travel in different company than I because to me the best meal I get on the road often is an egg sandwich at Starbucks.  I cannot recall the last good meal I had on a business trip and I am not complaining, just reporting reality. But, no, I don’t count hotel meeting food as “good.”

24% also said it “feels like a paid vacation” – and I really have to question that.  Or, maybe, these poor souls go on really miserable vacations.

As for what we do with the limited free time we have on the road, 77% of us say we try out local restaurants. 67% say they explore the city.

Sift the data and a take-away is that, indeed, business travel is every bit as rugged as we believe it to be.  Glamorous? Don’t jest.

But, somehow, when it’s done we have that sense of accomplishment. And it is deserved.  Very much so.  The data prove it.

Do You Know Where Your Travel Data Are?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

You are your data. That is today’s reality and, increasingly, travel and hospitality providers want your data by the bushel, in order, they suggest, to deliver better, more personalized services.

Do you trust them with your data?  

Of course we already do.  They have our credit card info, airlines have our Known Traveler Number or similar, airlines and hotels alike often have our passport numbers.

But they want more, lots more.

Some travelers are pushing back.  The 2018 IATA Global Passenger Survey found mounting unease on our parts.   Reported IATA: “65% of passengers are willing to share additional personal information (e.g. address of destination, travel purpose, picture) to speed up their processing at the airport vs 70% in 2017.”

Reported TNOOZ: “A drop of five percentage points in consumer confidence when it comes to how airlines and airports  manage their information is notable, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the majority of respondents still wanted to benefit from personalization.”

That is the reality. Fewer passengers today are eager to part with their personal data – but still a majority are ready to do so.

But when provoked we will pull the data plug. Facebook is a glaring case in point.  Pew elaborated: “Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a quarter (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All told, some 74% of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year.”

So users are striking back.

Sort of. 

But we are not necessarily targeting all users of our data.

That vagary arises in a reading of an Eater report on a coffee shop called Shiru that trades a free cup of java when a user tells a lot about him-or  herself. Said Eater: “The cafe, an offshoot of a Japanese chain now open in Providence, Rhode Island, mainly serves students from nearby Brown University. For each transaction, a cashier asks for customers’ names, birthdays, phone numbers, email addresses, majors, and professional interests before serving them their caffeine fix — no U.S. currency accepted (professors are allowed to pay for their drinks with cold hard cash, however).”

Eater elaborated: “Restaurants, be they independent fine dining restaurants or quick-service chains, have long tracked customer preferences via various methods (think of a savvy maitre’d who remembers a VIP customer’s birthday, or a server who automatically brings a patron’s favorite cocktail). But as the restaurant industry grows more competitive and sales growth has slowed, restaurants are resorting to new ways to remain competitive, and obsessively tracking data to figure out what exactly their customers want is a big part of that.”

We are complicit in this. Often.

There’s lots of confusion in the mix.  Reported TNOOZ: “A survey of over 2,000 British travelers, conducted by YouGov for Pegasystems, revealed that 73% of consumers would not be willing to give airlines more personal data for personalized services, while 43% wanted airlines to remember their personal interests and preferences when they travel.”

It’s hard to reconcile that divide.  Except to believe many of us are baffled about how our data are used.

Clarity comes down to simple questions.

How much data are you willing to part with?

In return for what?

There are more questions such as can you trust the company you are turning data over to, will they protect it? With whom will they share it?

My personal belief is that the data I share is no longer in my control and it may wind up in places I wish it hadn’t.

So I usually fill out loyalty program enrollment – which I may well want for the discounts – with bogus info, a bad phone number, for instance, and possibly an errant name.  

Lie to grocers and restaurants is my advice. If you can get the perks you want but part with no real data, what’s to lose?

I can’t do that on airline info, however, because I have to show ID to fly.

Really we are in a bind with airlines and, typically, too hotels which ask for a driver’s license or similar on check in.  

I’ve thought about buying a “novelty” driver’s license.  I’d need a credit card in that fake name too so the hassles mount. That could throw hotels off the scet however.

But we can – and should – limit what data we offer beyond the bare basics needed for a flight and a room.

And I will do that.

Will you?

 

Companies Jilting Basic Economy

 

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Time to applaud: research shows that an increasing number of organizations have turned their backs on basic economy fares.

Two years ago in this space we came out slugging against basic economy.  The basic scam is that, yes, the sticker price is less but because it delivers so much less, many travelers wind up paying more than if they had bought a more conventional economy fare in the first place.

Or their travels are filled with miseries.

My advice then was to urge travelers to push back against any organizational nudging them into basic economy.

I have not personally encountered that pressure and for this I applaud.

But I may not be alone.

I never thought business travelers would do anything but scorn basic economy. But it turns out I may have been too cynical about the corporate  response to it.

Encouraging news is that travel managers are recognizing that basic economy is a scam.  Research via the Global Business Travel Association and Airlines Reporting Corporation says this: “The study reveals a majority of travel programs (63 percent) never allow basic economy and even more (79 percent) configure their booking tool to hide basic economy fares when travelers are not authorized.”

Remember that if your organization wants to shove you into basic economy. Just say no. And stress that the majority of companies have vetoed its use.

That same research incidentally offered good news about business class fares: “Nine out of 10 (89 percent) [of managed travel programs] allow it occasionally and these policies commonly do so for lengthy flights, international flights or for senior executives.” So ask and ask again if you feel an upcoming flight should be in the front of the plane.

You just may hear OK.

All hope isn’t dashed if your program is among those that nix business class.  “Many travel programs are embracing premium economy fares, which provide extra legroom and other amenities such as early boarding. More than half (58 percent) of policies always or sometimes allow them and an additional 30 percent occasionally allow these fares,” said the research.

And premium economy is plush indeed compared to the alternatives.

The real show stopper however is the snubbing of basic economy and that’s because, over the past 15 or so years, many organizations seemingly have been in a race to see just how low they could get travel costs, and so hotel stays have slid down the value chain and so have airfares.

So my expectauons were accordingly bleak.

The formula, at the big three US carriers, is indeed grimly Dickensian.  At United, it’s a litany of no’s. No complimentary seat selection. No family or group seating.  No fullsize carryon bags unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member. Show up at the gate with a full size carryon and you pay the bag check fee plus a $25 gate check penalty. Exactly one personal carryon that fits under the seat is allowed.  No flight changes, no refunds.

And you board last.

Welcome to the friendly skies!

Delta and American are about as awful.

But just because something is bad doesn’t mean organizational bean counters won’t embrace it. It in fact seemed to me inevitable that, in many companies, basic economy and middle seat passage would become the norm.

Except this time they don’t appear to be.

“It’s not surprising to see many business travel programs shying away from basic economy fares,” said Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO. “These fares pose a challenge for travel programs, creating difficulty for spend visibility and comparison shopping when add-ons are factored in. Additionally, travel buyers are increasingly factoring in traveler preference and convenience as they recognize the importance of their role in employee retention and recruitment in a strong economy with low unemployment.”

Bottomline: corporate bean counters are realizing that basic economy may seem cheaper – but often it isn’t.

According to Skift, too, many companies are even opening their wallets a thin crack. Said Skift: “When it comes to add-ons, most policies allow in-flight meals, Wi-Fi access, and extra checked bags.”

But 74% of travel programs do not reimburse for airline lounge access.

And 54% will not pay for early boarding.

But ask and you may get what you want.

Push back and, just maybe, the organizational masters will hear your complaints.  Business travelers travel to make their organizations money, it’s that simple. But wearing us down – on overcrowded flights, in too small seats – is no way to put a refreshed team on the ground.

Insist on that message and, at least sometimes, it will get heard.  Sometimes. 

Just raise the volume to try to make yours one of the ones that get that money spent on better business travel often returns dividends in happier employees.