Younger business travelers go paperless — and social
Social networks and smartphones are the tools of young business travelers.
The New York Times
The children of the baby boomers are the first generation that never knew life before the Internet. And because they are a growing portion of the workforce, the companies that employ them, as well as the hotels, airlines and other travel-related businesses that serve them, are having to change the way they talk to them, work with them and sell to them.
Although this group — classified as those under 32 years old and known as millennials — makes up about 20 percent of the adult population and 13 percent of the business travel hotel bookings, their business travel numbers were up more than 40 percent in 2011 from a year earlier, according to data from the travel research firm D.K. Shifflet & Associates.
"Younger business travelers are less apt to follow policy for the sake of policy," said Evan Konwiser, a travel technology entrepreneur. "It's much more around buy-in and wanting to be a part of the team and understanding the big picture. I think the trend is toward simplifying some of these policies and infrastructures."
This is what Maria Chevalier, a corporate travel manager at Hewlett-Packard, found after completing a six-month study about her company's roughly 100,000 business travelers.
"With these younger generations, you have to communicate more frequently, but shorter," she said. "You have to use different forms of communication."
The younger travelers are asking more questions about the need for specific travel arrangements, such as why they are being asked to book at one hotel instead of another or to fly a particular airline. Chevalier said her challenge was to find ways to deliver fast, bite-size pieces of information about how following the company's travel policies benefits its bottom line.
Millennials were more likely to respond to a quick email or a text message than an hourlong online video about rules and regulations, she said. The company hopes to integrate social networking tools into the travel management tools its employees use, she added.
Darren Osleger, a consultant who has trained hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers in disaster preparedness techniques since graduating from college five years ago, said his best and most indispensable traveling partner is his iPhone. It has apps that let him simply enter a flight confirmation code and avoid having to print a boarding pass.
"All of my tickets can go on my phone," he said. "I scan it at the TSA and scan it at the gate. There's no reason to print out airline tickets again."
Osleger, who travels four days a week all over the country, said it took some convincing before his fellow travelers, who are primarily baby boomers, embraced practices like this. Now, they're fans of paperless boarding passes, too, he said.
This kind of viral adoption is what travel managers like Chevalier hope will happen with their internal management tools. If the managers can get younger employees to use their phones and laptops to do everything from book a ticket to file expense reports, they say they hope the experience will prompt them to evangelize and eventually convert their older colleagues.
Joe Bates, senior director of research at the Global Business Travel Association, said younger travelers are more willing to use new technology tools to manage their travel logistics by themselves, which benefits their employers.
"Adoption rates happen much more quickly," Bates said, because the younger employees wind up persuading their older colleagues to try new tools.
Millennials are heavy users of mobile apps and social media when they book a trip, check in and deliver feedback on their travel experiences, Robert W. Mann, an airline industry consultant, said in an email.
George W. Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting, agreed.
"These are people where paper could very well disappear from their lives for all practical purposes," he said. "They expect to do things online and 24/7 wherever they are."
Bates noted that travel companies, as well as corporate travel managers, are adjusting how and when they offer customer service — including offering more service outside ordinary business hours — to respond to younger travelers' expectation that they can go on a smartphone or a laptop, log onto Facebook or send a text, and find what they are looking for immediately.
"They're used to things happening quickly," he said. "You go online, you find an answer and boom. Information by and large is so much more readily available and accessible."
Chris Klauda, vice president for quality services at Shifflet, said younger travelers can be tough to please. They are quick to provide feedback about their experiences — good and bad — via social networking or peer review sites, she said.
"They're savvier because they've traveled more as young people," she said. "When we look at some of our approval ratings, they are more critical because they have stayed in a number of hotels and have some experience level, to the point where they know what's good and what's not." To respond, hotels are adjusting their amenities and layouts and studying what younger travelers like.
"They're used to doing stuff in groups," Klauda said.
Hotels have been redoing their lobbies to make them more conducive to both business and social gatherings. More are expanding technology networks to handle demand.
"They're making it easier for people to use Wi-Fi throughout the hotel," said Joseph A. McInerney, president and chief executive of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "If you don't have Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, this generation isn't going to stay with you."
But despite this devotion to all things digital, young business travelers like being able to connect face-to-face with a wide network of people.
"They tend to use social media to meet up with friends while traveling, so they look at travel as a benefit," said Bates, of the business travel association.
He said these travelers often plan social activities during their trips that aren't connected to work, and that many of them view business travel as a perk for this reason.
"I absolutely love that I'm able to go and see parts of the country and meet people," said Jamielee Gorga, a saleswoman for Rema Foods, an importer and distributor.
Gorga, 31, said she travels about three times a month, doing things as diverse as attending trade shows and conducting sales training.
Like Osleger, Gorga said her iPhone was her most indispensable travel tool. But her job's biggest perk, she says, has nothing to do with technology.
"I believe it's just the great people I'm able to meet that make this something I want to continue to do," she said.