A Portrait of the Modern Business Traveler
tl;dr: How is the new generation of road warriors altering the business travel landscape?
Close your eyes for a moment and picture a business traveler.
What are they doing? How are they dressed? If you’re like most people (or, say, Shutterstock) you’re picturing someone (probably a man; likely a white man) in a suit with a briefcase and/or laptop in an uncommonly roomy airplane seat. Maybe they have a freshly poured cocktail in their hand, or perhaps they’re talking animatedly to the person next to them.
This caricature of a business traveler persists, but he is quickly going the way of paper receipts and three Martini lunches.
In his place, a new generation of business travelers is emerging, one that values convenience, flexibility and control over tradition and status.
Plenty of articles have shared their thoughts on how Millennials are changing business travel, but we wanted the actual data, so we surveyed more than 1,000 frequent business travelers and asked them about every aspect of how they travel for work: what they eat & drink, where they stay, how they fly, and so much more.
The responses presented a clear image of the modern business traveler — a portrait that belies the caricature in so many of our minds and presents a clearer picture of the preferences, behaviors and peculiarities of this new generation of business traveler.
Let’s get to the data!
Convenience above all else
Everybody prefers convenience and flexibility to the alternatives, but the modern business traveler appears to value these qualities to an unprecedented degree.
At every point of their travels, our respondents confirmed their desire for convenience — direct flights, ride sharing apps, conveniently located hotels and more.
It starts with flight options.
When the modern business traveler sits down to pick their flights, the 3 most important factors to them are: flight time options, price and direct flight availability.
Price is an understandable function of staying within company guidelines, but the other two show that today’s business travelers are optimizing for convenience, even at the expense of prestige and comfort.
In fact, respondents were twice as likely to value direct flight options over both leg room and cleanliness.
Notice, too, that loyalty programs and other status perks don’t even crack the top 5 — it’s all about convenience.
This preference extends to hotels.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents listed proximity to their meeting or event as the primary factor in how they select a hotel. Respondents were 56% more likely to value proximity over reviews, and 46% more likely to value proximity over star ratings.
Likewise, ride sharing now trumps taxis as corporate travelers’ preferred option for ground transportation — more than to-thirds of respondents said they opt for Uber or Lyft over taxis.
The thread that ties all this together is self-booking. A whopping 81% of respondents said they prefer to book their own accommodations when traveling for work.
Travel managers and corporate travel agents aren’t necessarily disappearing, but most travelers clearly want the convenience and flexibility that self-booking affords.
All work and no play?
The results show just how much modern business travelers value convenience and flexibility — does this mean that these travelers are prioritizing their own comfort over the work they’re on the road to do?
In fact, the opposite is true: today’s travelers are taking early flights (and working on them), choosing water over alcohol, and grinding out long hours on the road.
The data makes it clear that business travelers prefer to start things early. Tuesday is their preferred day to travel, and 78% cite the first three days of the work week as the best for travel. Coincidentally, the same percentage of respondents said they prefer to travel in the early morning as opposed to during the work day or late at night.
And when they fly they tend to work. While 45% of respondents said working is their preferred in-flight activity, 69% said they end up working on business flights.
Working or not, one thing business travelers aren’t doing too much of is chatting with their seat-mates.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they prefer not to chat with the travelers next to them.
Travelers are also mostly staying away from in-flight alcoholic beverages. Water (28%), soda (21%), coffee (13%), sparkling water (11%) and diet soda (10%) are all more popular in-flight beverage options than wine (8%), cocktails (6%) and beer (4%).
And even as bleisure travel continues to take hold, work still dominates business trips. Sixty-nine percent said they end up working longer days when they travel (especially women) and 68% say they get less sleep while traveling for work.
But what unites these two themes — a desire for more convenience and a hard-working ethos — is a growing appetite for comfort.
Even though travelers made it clear how much they’re working during corporate travel, they are finding new ways to make their trips more streamlined and comfortable.
We already talked about travelers' preferences for direct flights and Uber / Lyft, but how else are they adding comfort to their business travel?
The first way is how they dress.
A staggering 78% say that the days of dressing up for air travel are over — they prefer to dress comfortably and change when they arrive at their destination.
And while most business travelers aren’t springing for business class, many (47%) say they have paid for an upgrade to avoid a middle seat.
Interestingly, respondents are more likely to upgrade their hotel stays — where they add conveniences like wifi and on-site breakfast. Similarly, the majority of respondents (58%) choose to get room service (23%) or eat at the hotel’s on-site restaurant (35%) instead of venturing out to a local restaurant.
The modern business traveler
All told, the data made it very clear that preferences, behaviors and mores around corporate travel are changing.
Today’s business travelers are still working hard (and long hours) when traveling for work, but they’re using their growing control over the process to smooth over some of corporate travel’s rough edges and add convenience and flexibility at every turn.