TORONTO — The business travel market is “robust,” echoed a panel of hospitality executives during Best Western’s annual Business Travel Summit, held yesterday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

“We think it’s going to be a very, very strong year in terms of overall performance,” said Dorothy Dowling, SVP, Marketing and Sales at Best Western International, who attributed part of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based company’s success in the past year to ongoing strategic partnerships and increased marketing and sales efforts. It was a sentiment shared by Brian Robertson, COO, Vision 2000 Travel Group, who agreed there’s a bustle of booking activity, even though performance is still lagging behind last year’s double-digit growth. Across Canada, areas that are expected to experience the most activity will be the Prairie provinces and British Columbia, which will see a four-per-cent increase in business travel, added Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), who noted Ontario is experiencing a decline.

During the lunchtime panel, many topics were tackled, including the unique characteristics of the Canadian business traveller. “The Canadian companies tend to have a far more invested interest in terms of environmental questions on the RFP,” said Dowling, adding Canucks tend to cancel reservations less often, and book further in advance. Environmental factors are indeed a draw, added Pollard, citing research from the latest HAC survey that showed 53 per cent of business travellers prefer to stay at an environmentally certified hotel.

Other issues explored included the increasing importance of loyalty programs and new ways to attract bookings, such as Best Western’s recent implementation of Google Business Photos, which allow the guest to see 360-degree virtual tours powered by Google Street View technology.

As for future predictions, Pollard noted business travel will grow this year, and he forecasted that there will be an even bigger jump next year in a run up to the federal election. And, buyers are becoming centralized, added Robertson, who said corporations are making their decisions where to spend their travel dollars on a regional and global basis. “There’s still a major push for compliance,” he added. “There’s always going to be a push for cost savings and duty of care.”

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