Budget hotel chains are fast adapting to the changing needs of business travellers. Charlotte Flach and Bev Fearis explore five key trends and how the sector is responding
1. New ways of working
Working remotely is now commonplace and, rather than being a pandemic trend, it’s looking like a more permanent shift in behaviour, says Markus Keller, Senior Vice President, Sales and Distribution at Accor.
It’s given rise to yet another new travel sector buzzword – workspitality – where hotels are adjusting their products and services to cater for the rising number of ‘digital nomads’ working on the move.
In response, Accor is transforming its hotel spaces into optimised workplaces with access to Wi-Fi, printers, water and coffee.
Later this year, YOTEL will open a 237-room futuristic hotel in Geneva Lake, incorporating HYGGE, an entertainment, meeting and co-working space.
Billed as a ‘destination within a destination’, the 2,000sqm HYGGE will feature a 24/7 restaurant/bar/café, with meeting facilities and co-working space.
Meanwhile, Premier Inn is continuing the rollout of its Premier Plus rooms, which are kitted out with amenities to make the lives of business travellers easier. Ironing boards, a bigger desk and an improved vanity area all feature. “The technology has been enhanced too: all rooms come with a flat screen TV, a bedside USB charging point and free access to our faster ‘Ultimate’ Wi-FI,” adds Dawn Lister, Premier Inn’s
Senior Sales & Business Support Manager.
Travelodge’s new budget-luxe design, being rolled out across 60 hotels this year, including Southampton and Thame, comes with a “next generation bedroom” and the brand’s contemporary restaurant concept, the Bar Café, featuring spaces for guests to “work, relax and socialise”. The restaurant has distinctive zones designed to suit the different needs of guests, including counter seating with built-in USB and laptop power for working guests or those attending meetings, plus dining zones with intimate booths and dining benches for groups.
The move towards remote working has prompted a rise in small internal meetings where teams get together for collaboration and creativity. With head offices now closed or scaled back, these meetings are increasingly being held in locations that work well geographically for the newly-dispersed workforce, rather than in the main city centres.
Traditionally, budget brands have been well represented in these secondary locations and are continuing to invest in them. The roll-out of Premier Inn Plus, for example, is not confined to its city centre properties but to hotels across the UK.
The trend for hybrid working and the drive to make trips count means more business travellers are extending their stays by adding on leisure time.
It’s a trend backed by Premier Inn research. “From the business guests that responded to our post-stay survey in March, 28% said they were staying for ‘bleisure’. Our research in 2021 showed that half of 1,000 office workers said that bleisure is appealing, with many saying it is definitely something they will consider doing more of,” says Lister.
YOTEL has spotted a similar trend. “We’ve noticed an increase in guests taking advantage of the new hybrid model and working remotely while exploring a new city without the need to take time off,” said Chief Commercial Officer Edward Pinchard.
As offices reopen, Travelodge is also reporting a “small but emerging” trend for city centre commuters who live outside of cities and are starting to return to more regular mid-week travel, now staying in a Travelodge as a cheaper alternative to the cost of commuting each day.
2. Planet and community
The ability to measure and monitor sustainability policies gives budget hotel groups an edge over other types of accommodation. The lack of ‘frills’ like miniature toiletries, bath robes and laundry services, also means budget hotels generally have a lower carbon footprint than four- or five-star properties.
Being able to guarantee a standard approach to sustainability practices across all properties makes budget chains attractive to corporate buyers who are committed to making their travel programmes more responsible.
“We have rolled out our ‘Purple to Green’ programme, founded on the development of intelligent buildings, promoting sustainable operations and taking care of our people,” says YOTEL’s Pinchard.
Meanwhile, every new build Travelodge hotel has green features, including low energy lighting, aerated showers and smart meters. The chain has also invested in a new carpet made from recycled fishing nets, as part of a project supporting clean ocean initiatives. The carpet backing is made of old plastic bottles.
There is also increased interest in CSR policies as customers look to align with like-minded brands that care about communities, the environment and the planet, says Premier Inn’s Lister.
Premier Inn has never used single-use plastic for its toiletries and has made a commitment to eliminate single-use plastic altogether by 2025. It operators a ‘Force for Good’ programme and has partnered with Project Art Works, a collective of neuro-diverse artists and activists.
“Through this partnership, each Premier Plus bedroom has a specially-selected print, created by these artists,” adds Lister.
Accor has introduced a new sustainable brand to its economy portfolio. Called greet, the brand promises a “high-quality and affordable hotel experience”, where each hotel has its own unique identity.
The brand has set a ‘no waste’ policy, an eco-system where everything is second-handed, and has partnered with Emmaüs, a French charity that offers employment to homeless people and renovates second-hand objects and furniture. The goal is to open 300 units in Europe by 2030.
3. Health, safety and wellbeing
Corporate buyers need to be reassured that safety is playing a pivotal role in an employee’s stay, says Pinchard. “We are supporting corporate buyers and travel managers by ensuring that our health and safety protocols are continually reviewed and adapted to the changing needs of their travellers, for example with #SmartStay, which is our operational response to keeping crew and guests safe and secure.”
During the pandemic investment in low-touch experiences has been accelerated.
“Health and safety also remains a top priority with a low-touch customer journey and ongoing adaptable plans and protocols in place to look after guests,” says Lister.
Guests expect checking in and out to be a smooth and uncomplicated process, so budget hotels are going digital with convenient apps, self-service stations to avoid long queues and SmartKeys which can be downloaded to guests’ mobile phones.
Key to conversations in many industries is the recognition that employee preferences hold more weight than before. “People are a company’s greatest asset, and retaining employees is more critical than ever. A company’s T&E programme can directly impact an employee’s experience,” says Keller.
4. Booking flexibility
The pandemic period prompted a rise in demand for booking flexibility and for the best possible price and there are no signs that this will subside any time soon.
“Our current pricing model includes options to amend or cancel bookings right up to 14.00 on the day of arrival, acknowledging that as business travel returns our guests’ plans may change at the last minute,” says YOTEL’s Pinchard.
Amending bookings without penalties has become the norm. Premier Inn’s Flex rate, for example, offers additional peace of mind should plans change at the last minute and allows guests to amend or cancel bookings right up to 13.00 on arrival day.
Flexibility is still key, at least temporarily. “Since reopening, the corporate market has seen a much shorter booking lead time. However, we are now starting to see this increase as travellers are becoming more confident and businesses establish their new norm,” adds Premier Inn’s Lister
5. Customer loyalty
With growing competition from the likes of AirBnB and other ‘alternative’ types of accommodation, budget hotels are looking at ways to earn brand loyalty, particularly from their corporate customers.
Accor’s loyalty programmes have moved beyond simply earning and spending points.
“Our Accor Business Offer Auto-Enrol is a self-registration programme specially designed for SMES, allowing them to benefit from preferential discounts of 5% to 9% across more than 4,100 hotels,” says Keller.
YOTEL is also capitalising on this trend. “Members save 10% on every booking they make when booking direct,” says Pinchard.
Although it does not currently offer a loyalty scheme, Premier Inn’s online booking tool, Business Booker, gives companies exclusive access to its Business Flex rate with up to a 15% discount.
Travelodge enhanced its Travelodge Business product in 2021 after a study with over 3,000 businesses, including blue chip companies, SMEs and entrepreneurs. The self-service business travel solution offers cost savings, exclusive benefits, and a dedicated support team. Travelodge claims that, on average, the product can give a large company annual savings up to £250,000 on their hotel spend or up to £1,000 for SMEs.
Holders of Travelodge Business Account cards are entitled to the Travelodge Business benefits and also get six weeks’ interest free credit, including room bookings, WiFi and food and drink in the Bar Café.