The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Despite what the 2009 George Clooney film Up in the Air might depict, traveling for business can be exhausting. While some colleagues and friends may look on with envy, the rigors can affect health and relationships.

Yet, the number of global business travelers continues to increase. Despite technological advances that allow easy communication with those in other countries, face-to-face meetings are still seen as critical.

According to the Global Business Travel Association Business Traveler Sentiment Index, “Millennials [those born from the early 1980s to early 2000s] are nearly twice as likely to want to travel more for business than baby boomers [those born between 1946 and 1964] (45 percent and 26 percent, respectively), while a strong majority of Millennials (57 percent) believe technology can never replace face-to-face meetings to get business done.”

Knowing this, many travel agencies and companies are looking for ways to make this easier, adapting their offerings—including travel concierges—to meet the needs of the business traveler.

TOUGH TRAVELS
Business travel is a highly-valued job perk, but it comes with many considerations. Smartphone apps and online services are helping make many tasks and decisions easier, but a personalized touch can go a long way toward alleviating stress and making the trip more productive.

“I find our guests struggling to figure out travel time between appointments,” said Keisuke Suzuki, a concierge at Tokyo-based Trancierge Inc. “I understand that a lot of travelers plan travel time in advance using Google Maps, but struggle through the traffic reality and connections on public transport.”

In some destinations, the language barrier can also be a serious issue. “The language barrier in Japan is more difficult than expected,” Suzuki explained. This can mean basic things—such as looking for public Wi-Fi, exchanging currency, and purchasing SIM cards—can be an ordeal. But this can be solved through translation apps, a must-have for those traveling to countries where English is not widely spoken.

While tools such as Google Translate help eliminate some challenges, there are many factors that are beyond our control when traveling. Delays and mishaps are unavoidable, and being able to adjust plans on-the-go is vital. The FlightView app from UK-based OAG Aviation Worldwide Limited allows travelers to track flights and stay aware of delays, cancelations, and gate changes. An add-on even allows one to view the flight boards at major airports.

Being away from home for prolonged business trips can also be challenging from a comfort standpoint. This reality gave rise to extended-stay hotels such as Homewood Suites by Hilton, Courtyard by Marriott, Staybridge Suites by InterContinental Hotels Group, and Hyatt Corporation’s Hyatt House.

Today, home-sharing platform Airbnb has entered the market with Airbnb for Business, a service that offers travelers the option of staying in an actual home. This alternative to business hotels is growing in popularity. According to travel research firm Phocuswright, 31 percent of those who used Airbnb in 2015–2016 did so for business travel.

Despite these challenges, according to data published in January 2017 by Booking.com for Business, 30 percent of people would accept lower-paying jobs if it meant traveling for work.

DIGITAL AGE
There are many well-known online outlets that offer extensive options to travelers, and Booking.com is one of them. The popular website for travel reservations and related-services offers a separate portal for business travelers.

A spokesperson from Booking.com explained to The Journal that their business-focused service “is free to use and allows travelers to track their spending, find avenues to save, and get 24-hour service in 42 languages. The ‘Genius’ status allows a registered company’s frequent business travelers to deal with smaller concerns such as earlier check-in or later check-out.” The website claims that 20 percent of its total bookers globally are business travelers, and that number is slightly higher in Japan.

Hotels.com is another website that has expanded into the world of apps. Its Mobile Butler allows users to book everything from restaurants to taxis through popular services such as OpenTable for restaurant reservations and Uber for ride sharing. For those who travel regularly, this can be a saving grace and a way to avoid using multiple apps and services.

 

PERSONALIZED CARE
Many people associate a personal travel concierge with the rich and famous, who pay high fees and expect luxury service. But some companies are looking to change this view by taking a more practical, business-friendly approach.

Trancierge offers a range of services, including mobile phones, SIM cards, laptops, Wi-Fi, and even access to rental cars. Whatever your needs, a customized service will be provided.

As Trancierge’s Suzuki explains, concierge services for business travelers offer “an efficient, one-stop shop that takes care of all your needs . . . and consultation and quotes are free of charge.”

The reliability of information on the Internet is another hurdle for travelers. With a multitude of online outlets and reviews, how can one choose a service? According to Suzuki, that’s where services such as Trancierge come in.

“Information from a concierge is far more reliable than anonymous information floating around the web.”

In addition, having one person to attend to all your needs means quick, stress-free communication. “Think of a concierge as your friend in unknown territory. A quick phone call will solve your problem.”

IN JAPAN
To those who frequent Tokyo, it should come as no surprise that the city is the world’s second-fastest-growing business travel destination, according to data measured by Bookings.com in the year from November 2015.

A global financial hub in what is considered one of the safest countries in the world, Tokyo continues to attract inbound travelers and grow its capacity to serve them. Access to the city’s business districts and popular areas is also becoming easier thanks to increased flights from abroad to Haneda International Airport. Located near the center of the city, Haneda’s resurgence as an international hub has made travel easier, negating the need for a long train ride or an exorbitant taxi fare from Narita International Airport in Chiba. This proximity also makes meetings more efficient, allowing clients and business partners to get in and out more quickly.

As agents, concierge services, and travel destinations continue to adapt their offerings, life is becoming easier for those who rely on face-to-face meetings. An array of apps and online services are now at the traveler’s fingertips, helping them stay ahead of the digital competition and keep up with the demands of an increasingly digitally minded global business community.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at The Journal.