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(Terry Wong for the Globe and Mai)
(Terry Wong for the Globe and Mai)

Road Work: a weekly look at business travel

The single-day business trip Add to ...

Tough times call for tough measures – and you have to be pretty tough to cut hotels out of your travel itinerary.

Yet that's what increasing numbers of business travellers are doing, turning what would have been overnight trips into same-day return travel to save money and time.

Richard Job, a manager for Flight Centre in Vancouver, spoke to airline executives who have taken to flying Vancouver-London same-day return. “That's something new to them in the last six to 12 months,” Job says.

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While this is an extreme practice – that's 20 hours of flying time – Job says Toronto-London day trips are no longer uncommon among travel professionals. He has taken to regularly flying to L.A. and back the same day. “I'd rather get home to my family than stay in Los Angeles,” he says.

These travel-business insiders are on the leading edge of a trend that is being noticed throughout the industry. While there has always been a good number of travellers landing in Canada's major cities in the morning and leaving in the evening, frequent fliers are going to greater lengths to make it home without staying overnight.

Job says he has been hearing a lot more about same-day travel from business travellers over the past year, especially those who stick to north-south travel in the same time zone. In Canada, that trend likely got an assist thanks to the growth of service at Toronto City Centre Airport, which shaves hours off total travel time for fliers in central Toronto.

But according to Tony Johnston, chief financial officer for Uniglobe Beacon Travel in Calgary, the trend extends far beyond Porter Airlines and its still exclusively Eastern Canadian ambit. Why? Because on shorter-haul trips, hotel expenses can account for as much as 50 to 60 per cent of the travel cost.

It's ironic that business travellers are bucking against hotel costs, since their business helped to drive rates so high in the last generation. (Motel 6, remember, once had $6 rooms.)

Boom-time business travellers on expense accounts didn't care too much about $350-a-night rooms and $35 room-service waffles. They care now, even with deals on airfare.

“The whole industry has changed,” Johnston says. “Many years ago, for business travel, often you'd be trying to find the cheapest fare, booking in advance, staying a Saturday. But now with last-minute fares, seat sales and low one-way travel costs, going there and back on the same day makes sense.”

These days, he says, “you're seeing some people doing Toronto-Vancouver, going out on the morning flight, getting there at 1 or 2 o'clock, doing their business and coming back on the 8 or 9 o'clock flight.”

He has done the same-day Calgary-Toronto trip himself, many times.

“It may be tougher on your body,” he says, “but you spend more time with your family and you save your company money.”

There are probably a dozen reasons why hotel occupancy is down this year, and this is certainly one of them. September was a very bad month for hotels: Across the Americas, occupancy was down 6.3 per cent from a year ago, the average daily rate for a room declined 10.1 per cent, and the revenue from available rooms went down 15.7 per cent.

In Europe, according to figures released last week by Smith Travel Research (STR), it was much the same story, with mostly double-digit declines. The same goes for most of the Asia Pacific region, with India the hardest hit. Air India – perhaps picking up on this same trend – recently expanded same-day return schedules on its regional routes.

Alitalia has also drastically increased its same-day Milan-Rome route, making it the basis of its largest ad campaign of the year.

And in North America, trips that might have warranted a short flight are now becoming road trips. Take Bobby Bowers, senior vice-president of operations at STR, a Nashville-based organization that tracks the global hotel industry. Recently, “I drove 31/2 hours to Memphis for a meeting at one of the Hilton headquarters,” he says, “and then I drove 31/2 hours back.”

This, he suggests, is a sign of the times: “The travel industry has been hit hard,” he says. And with even the travel industry's travellers cutting back on hotels, the recovery may take some time yet.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Do you have feedback or business travel questions? E-mail roadwork@globeandmail.com.

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