Trav­ellers’ lay­over moans might give Cathay a shot in the arm

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Evans

THE old adage that travel is about the jour­ney, not the des­ti­na­tion, isn’t the case with the cor­po­rate trav­eller. A new report has found that the big­gest prob­lem with business travel is just that — the trav­el­ling bit.

Al­most half of those sur­veyed (47pc) have a real gripe with lay­overs, with plane-chang­ing and end­less hours spent in soul­less air­port ter­mi­nals tak­ing up time, and hit­ting pro­duc­tiv­ity.

And where the business man or woman stays is also an is­sue — four in 10 had quib­bles about the work en­vi­ron­ment (ie, ho­tel) when trav­el­ling, while just over one in three were ir­ri­tated by hav­ing to change itin­er­ar­ies while abroad — 42pc don’t like chang­ing flight or train reser­va­tions, while just over one in three say the same about hav­ing to change ho­tel reser­va­tions while on the road.

But com­pa­nies can make life eas­ier for the weary trav­eller, the ‘Cre­at­ing a Fric­tion­less Travel Ex­pe­ri­ence’ sur­vey found.

Trav­ellers’ de­mands are pretty straight­for­ward: con­ve­nient and com­fort­able ho­tels, non­stop flights, book­ing flex­i­bil­ity, and paid time off to com­pen­sate for long trips were among the most favoured perks on wish­lists. Op­tional ser­vices business trav­ellers were most likely to buy abroad in­cluded pro­duc­tiv­ity-en­hanc­ing ho­tel high-speed in­ter­net and air­plane/train wifi, seat up­grades, and early board­ing.

The ma­jor­ity (79pc, ris­ing to 88pc of mil­len­ni­als) said that their travel ex­pe­ri­ence has a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on their over­all job sat­is­fac­tion, and sim­i­lar num­bers said that the qual­ity of their travel af­fects their business re­sults.

The lack of lay­overs could be a key sell­ing point for Cathay Pa­cific as it be­gins di­rect flights from Dublin to China’s key eco­nomic re­gion of Hong Kong next year.

While the ser­vice has been wel­comed by the IDA, En­ter­prise Ire­land and tourism bod­ies here, not ev­ery­one’s so sure about yet an­other link to the east, par­tic­u­larly in the light of con­tin­ued ru­mours of a di­rect ser­vice to Bei­jing in the off­ing.

“I’m not sure how vi­able it will be,” one air­line ex­ec­u­tive told this col­umn. “With Eti­had and Emi­rates and re­cently Qatar of­fer­ing one-stop con­nec­tiv­ity from Dublin to Asia via the Mid­dle East, the Hong Kong ser­vice its go­ing to be up against stiff com­pe­ti­tion.” It’s a view shared by oth­ers in the in­dus­try, who don’t have a stake in the game as they don’t work for a car­rier op­er­at­ing in that mar­ket. On top of the Mid­dle East­ern trio, Turk­ish of­fers good con­nec­tiv­ity via Is­tan­bul, plus there’s the op­tion of con­ve­nient one-stop routes via Helsinki, Am­s­ter­dam and Paris.

But that lay­over is­sue might just work in Hong Kong’s favour, par­tic­u­larly if there’s enough point-to-point de­mand be­tween Ire­land and the south of China.

On that is­sue, if air­lines are se­ri­ous about en­tic­ing the high-spend­ing Chi­nese tourist or business per­son to Ire­land — and in turn open­ing up vi­tal links for Ir­ish in­dus­try — it’s worth­while get­ting the per­spec­tive of Chi­nese trav­ellers them­selves. “Fare and con­ve­nience are the big is­sues,” Sun­nie, an Ir­ish-based jour­nal­ist with me­dia com­pany Emer­ald Me­dia told this col­umn at a re­cent air­line event. “Lug­gage is a ma­jor is­sue — the al­lowance needs to be big as Chi­nese cul­ture means bring­ing gifts for ev­ery­one.” And that’s a cor­po­rate, not just leisure, is­sue.

The mas­sive mar­ket al­ready has its views on how it wants to con­nect into Europe. “Cus­tomer loy­alty takes a long time to build up, but Heathrow is too big and con­fus­ing. Trav­ellers just find chang­ing ter­mi­nals and go­ing to gates very stressful.” Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol is the key choice, she says, ahead of Paris Charles De Gaulle, as the sig­nage is clearer and in the Chi­nese lan­guage (also in Ja­panese for an­other key mar­ket).

The mes­sage is al­ready be­ing taken on board — Paris is copy­ing Am­s­ter­dam’s sig­nage to the let­ter, so if Dublin is se­ri­ous about de­vel­op­ing the mar­ket, and be­com­ing a bridge to the east as well as the west, the lessons have al­ready been learned, and ought to be copied.

How does an air­line pick a new route — you’d think profit fore­casts, load fac­tors, spot­ting a gap in the mar­ket. How about Face­book? That was the odd move by low-cost Ger­man car­rier Eurow­ings, which re­cently de­cided to launch a ser­vice next year — based on the amount of votes cast on its ded­i­cated Face­book page by would-be pas­sen­gers.

Two Ir­ish air­ports were in the run­ning — Shan­non and Belfast In­ter­na­tional — against most East­ern European cities. A bit like the Eurovision, Ire­land lost out, with Mostar in Bos­nia beat­ing Shan­non by the slimmest of mar­gins. The Ir­ish air­port is now in talks with the Ger­mans to give the ser­vice a shot, in­sid­ers told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent. So watch this space.

It’ll pay to focus on what the Chi­nese trav­eller wants if Dublin is to forge new links

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