Pieter Buitendag is General Manager of Protea Hotel President in Cape Town. He has managed hotels with apartment or suite components for nearly 10 years.
Business travel in whatever form used to be an activity that people looked forward to because hotels were somewhat of a treat. They had the fluffiest pillows, baths in which you could practically do laps, at least one restaurant (and bar) on site and there was the novelty of knowing you could order a sandwich or a scotch at 2am.
Sadly, it’s no longer the case with the advent of round-the-clock food delivery services, homes filled with technology, relaxed liquor trading hours, iPods and the World Wide Web in a device so compact that it can be stuck into a pocket.
Technology has wrought massive change for an entirely new generation of executive traveller, whose wants and priorities have been fundamentally altered by the manner in which they conduct business and use their recreational time.
Fifteen years ago the hotel bar used to be the place to which many business travellers and conference delegates flocked after a hard day in the boardroom, sharing corporate war stories, drowning sorrows and celebrating victories.
Nowadays, though, business and MICE travellers are more likely to retire to their rooms immediately to Skype with their loved ones, catch up on the day’s emails or even try to forget the day with a session of multi-player online gaming. Many of them prefer to eat in their rooms as well, so as not to interrupt their activities.
It’s therefore no surprise that the one thing these travellers want more than anything else is space.
Technology has created a work day that is much longer and far more intrusive. It’s the main reason the first question we’re asked when conference delegates or executives check into our hotel is whether they can upgrade to suites with separate lounges and bedrooms. They want a work space and a sleep space that are separate, so they can delineate a work area that is not on or next to their beds.
We’re lucky in that we have more than 100 of these apartments at Protea Hotel President that are either one- or two-bedroomed, and they’re always booked solid when we host conferences.
The same can be said for the many other Protea Hotels around the country that offer similar spacious accommodations.
All our standard rooms and suites also have kitchenettes so there is a choice of room service, going down to the restaurant or nuking a Woolies microwave meal.
Peter Waters, Director of Distribution, Global Hotel Group, Amadeus was quoted on Global Banking and Finance Review recently as saying that the most important aspect of business travel, according to a number of studies they have conducted, is convenience.
“As part of the ‘me’ generation, the business traveller is demanding more from the hotel industry. While the transaction process might remain the same, the context of that transaction is different.
“…There will always be those travellers who just want a cheap rate; but increasingly, guests will be more focused on facilities, services, philosophies, and ‘what the hotel can do for me’ to improve convenience and ease.”
Another study of 1000 travellers done by independent research company TNS last year for the SpringHill Suites Marriott echoed the sentiment. Global Brand Manager Callette Nielsen was quoted as saying: “One of the growing trends in business travel is a hotel with space and style at an affordable price. With affordability top of mind as well as the need for a functional and stylish space, business travellers are looking for something different that breaks away from that boring beige box.
“…Business travellers are looking for more from a hotel room these days. They want … plenty of room to work, relax and sleep. To do this, some hotels are offering rooms with separated seating, working, and relaxing areas in an inspirational environment that provides business travellers with an atmosphere that helps them relax, while also inspiring creativity to facilitate better work on the road.”
And that’s true of all of us. We’re far more likely to bring our A-Game to a meeting or conference if we’re comfortable and relaxed in our surroundings.
I believe the provision of suites will become a mainstay for many business hotels in South Africa going forward. Technology doesn’t leave much room nowadays for personal space and that’s unlikely to change, so hotels that provide more of it, will be seeing greater numbers of feet through the door.