Almost every small business owner has to travel at some point. Whether it’s a client visit in a different state, or a last minute decision to fly up to an industry conference to do a spot of networking, the need to hit the road comes up often. Then there are those that are on the road all the time, hopping between different cities and even different countries as a core part of the business.
Thanks to the internet, travel is no longer a simple choice of walking down to your local travel agent and being at the mercy of the price being chirped at you. There is a plethora of options when it comes to booking your business travel. These days, one of the most common methods is a quick visit to the website of your preferred airline of choice, booking something in your price range, and leaving it at that.
But this is just one piece of the puzzle, and often the airlines (particularly internationally) will quote different prices. One of these ways is with cookies – the little bits of information that a website will put on your computer to remember that you visited it. Some websites will remember that you have already checked out the prices for a certain flight a couple of days earlier, and put the prices up as its more likely you will make a purchase now that you are revisiting the site.
This isn’t to say that booking online is not going to produce a saving. Travel agencies are a business after all, and they have to put a margin on products they sell to you in order to turn a profit. A lot of the time there are bargains to be had online, you just have to search for them. This means checking out several of the comparison websites, as well as going to the sites of the airlines and hotels and comparing the offers. Often the airlines will offer flights on their own website that they don’t on others, and similarly with hotels offering room deals that aren’t available on comparison sites.
For Scott Maxworthy, founder of Max Media and Entertainment, travel arrangements are all about making sure the saving you are realising by booking online is worth the time investment.
“Like everyone else, historically, you would go to a travel agent,” he says. “They would book an itinerary and tell you where you are staying, etc, but the nature of the internet is different now.”
Scott spends a lot of time travelling to see his marketing clients, and his wife Kim runs an online store that has suppliers in Thailand and Indonesia, so the pair is often making trips to Asia. This works out fine for Scott, as he can run his business from anywhere, and was actually sitting by the pool in a hotel in Bali when he spoke to Nett.
“We used to spend so much time by the pool weighing up our options of where to go – which is a consequence of the internet,” explains Scott. “For me, I’ll go with the path of least resistance. Instead of spending hours and hours on a computer while you’re in Thailand, for the sake of a saving of $20-$50, I will just go and get on with it.
“Whereas my wife will spend a whole lot of time [comparing hotels] and then realise she only saved $20 when she could have spent that time relaxing and getting a massage.”
Scott believes that it really comes down to how much you want to spend and what your time is worth. For him, it’s not just a monetary consideration because you need to weigh up the time you would spend versus the ease of going to a travel agent.
“It’s a couple of hundred bucks for someone to put it all together for you, so it’s a bit like building your house – are you a do-it-yourself type, or do you get a tradesman in?” he says.
Another asset for travel bookings is TripAdvisor. The online travel review site has become so massive that almost any travel destination you can think of will have a number of people posting their thoughts on the quality of the hotel. This will include everything from a report on the softness of the mattress, what the breakfast is like, tips on picking a room and a million other little details.
Due to its popularity, it’s not uncommon for people to pick their hotels based on TripAdvisor reviews. Anyone can post a review, and the site’s popularity has made it rank incredibly high in search results, so you will often end up there without realising it. This can be a very good tool, but you need to be careful of fake reviews. Much like how ranking highly on Google impacts the success of an online store, ranking highly on TripAdvisor impacts the success of a hotel.
Because of this, many hotel owners (particularly overseas) will make fake profiles and post false reviews claiming the rooms are nicer than they are, or alternatively go to a competing hotel’s review page and trash it. You can usually spot these reviews as they will have a low post count – if a hotel has dozens of endorsements from people that have reviewed 20+ different locations on TripAdvisor and a one-post account trashing it, then it’s likely to be a fake. Similarly, if you have a hotel that is being harshly reviewed, and then you have a bunch of one-post accounts saying it’s the greatest place to stay on the planet, then you can assume it’s not so great.
But this isn’t the biggest concern with using TripAdvisor. The site is an incredibly useful tool for checking out where you are going to stay. But it has so much information available that it can be easy to spend a few hours clicking from hotel to hotel and still not make up your mind. It’s kind of like sitting down at a restaurant and being handed an encyclopaedia for a menu – you’re going to spend more time than you planned making up your mind.
For Sputnik, the founder of marketing agency Out Of This World, travel is unavoidable for client visits, but sometimes it will slow down.
“Sometimes I’ll go a year with just a trip or two interstate,” he explains. “This year I’ve been to New Zealand, Indonesia and right now I’m in Nepal. I was based in Cambodia for a year recently, so I commuted back and forth to Australia quite a bit. I have been back three or four times for project work since then.”
Sputnik believes there is no sure-fire way of booking your business travel. He makes his decision based on how much time he has. If it’s a last-minute thing he will just grab what’s available, but often he takes what he calls his ‘shotgun approach’ – fire off in all directions and hope to hit something.
“I’ll check a flight website like Webjet, call a travel agent, and maybe call a few airlines direct if I have a preference due to having various frequent flyer memberships,” he adds. “Obviously, within Australia, it is much easier as you only have a few choices and it’s pretty easy to go to each airline site directly, which is what I’d usually rather do than go through somewhere like Webjet.
“I’m quite a big fan of Wotif and use that fairly regularly,” he continues. “I’ve used a few other sites like Lastminute.com.au and Hotels.com as well. Sometimes I’ll use those sites just to get a feel for what’s around and what a good rate is and then look at the hotel’s own website or even call them direct to see what their best rate is.”
Sputnik is the founder of marketing agency Out Of This World, and he has three quick travel tips:
1 Take a powerboard with you absolutely everywhere.
2 Get an Ambassadors Lounge card. Gets you into lots of airport lounges all over the world for free.
3 If you have to do a stopover on a long-haul flight, always try and have a quick shower. Makes you feel more human for the next leg.