By
The Associated Press
updated 12/1/2004 7:27:06 PM ET 2004-12-02T00:27:06

Business travelers may abide by corporate policy when it comes to booking a flight or renting a car — but where hotels are concerned, the rules sometimes go out the window.

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THANKS TO ONLINE sites, where the offerings appear in richer detail than ever before, room choices are being driven by comparison shopping and personal tastes more than by rules set in the head office, according to those familiar with the industry.

“It’s total shopping,” says David Cerino of Orbitz for Business, the on-line booking operation’s corporate travel arm, speaking about individual choice versus company policy.

Most business travelers adhere to preferred air carriers where companies have deals yielding price breaks in exchange for volume business, and most use preferred car rental agencies perhaps 95 percent of the time, he said.

“But compliance on hotels is not very high,” Cerino said, in part because of the nature of the lodging business. It is fragmented by markets, less likely to lend itself to preferred supplier arrangements “and chain-wide deals are rare,” he said.

Individual travelers are driven by other concerns such as a hotel’s proximity to a meeting site; preferences for amenities or their own personal space; and the reward programs to which they belong, he said.

THE ONLINE ADVANTAGE

InsertArt(2056757)Online sites, for example, provide travelers with the exact distance from a hotel to a meeting venue or other specific places of interest — rather than just the standard information on how far a hotel is from the airport.

Orbitz for Business says it was the first online agency to integrate corporate negotiated hotel rates with published and special “saver” rates into a single display that makes it easy for corporate travelers to compare prices.

The comparison shopping hotel trend has also been tracked at PlacestoStay.com, a booking site for 35,000 individual hotels and bed and breakfast inns worldwide, including 8,000 independent properties.

“They (travelers) have their own agenda. We see more business travelers on our site,” says Lisa Perlmutter, marketing communications manager for the company. She said the site typically sees an 80-20 split between leisure and business travel — with leisure being the larger. But the corporate segment has been growing.

“Business travelers want to be able to see where they’re staying and how far it is from their destination,” she said. While the leisure traveler usually visits five to seven sites before making a hotel booking, she said, business travelers tend to make a choice after stopping at three to five sites.

“Our breadth of offerings is our biggest selling point for consumers, with chain hotels right alongside the B&Bs,” said Perlmutter. Business travelers in particular benefit from a search function that allows them to view a list of hotels in a specific area, as well as search by landmarks and neighborhoods, quality ratings and price, she said.

OPTIONS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS

PlacestoStay.com began seven years ago with an emphasis on independent properties that other booking sites were overlooking, she said. Bed and breakfast inns are increasingly common in urban settings and that industry has reported rising bookings by business travelers seeking a quiet, and often more picturesque, alternative to the standard hotel.

Perlmutter said the company’s business declined after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but has returned and grown steadily to become the third or fourth largest of those offering hotel bookings only.

Further evidence of the control travelers want over the choice of a hotel room comes from a recent survey of 600 business travelers done for Travelocity Business, that site’s travel management operation.

It found that price was the main factor in airline and rental car booking decisions, but money took a back seat to location when it came to the choice of a hotel.

Mitch Robinson of Expedia Corporate Travel agrees that business travelers have always paid more heed to corporate mandates on airlines than on hotels; but he believes the volume and variety of lodging information now available may be starting to change that.

A traveler who might have booked the same hotel for years might change to an employer-preferred property when he or she realizes the location is more convenient or attractive, he said, returning more control to corporate travel managers.

Expedia is beginning to see some shift in booking patterns along those lines, he added.


© 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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