Accommodation while travelling can represent a significant outlay for any business, and a bad choice of hotel could cost you more than money. Fortunately, keeping a few key things in mind should enable you to find hassle-free hotels in Europe.
We live in an age where international business has been revolutionised by technology. Skype, collaborative software, and a host of other technologies means that business relationships and projects can be developed and worked on from abroad. But there’s still a place for visiting your business partners in person, as Nigel Turner, Director of Programme Management & Business Development at business travel consultancy Carson Wagonlit, explains. “There’s certain things that you can do over the phone with telephone and video conferencing, but face to face still has a good return on investment,” he notes.
Examples include conferences and product launches. There are also certain countries within the EU where a personal visit is seen as a sign of respect, which can have a positive effect on your business relationship. One of your most significant expenses, particularly in the early stages of feeling out a new market, is accommodation. Choosing the right place to stay internationally is not rocket science, but a poor choice can really hinder your efforts.
INTERNET IS NOT ALWAYS BEST
The internet is such a ubiquitous part of our everyday life that we often lean on it when choosing a hotel in a foreign country. It’s a good first port of call, but the information presented is general by its very nature. Contacting the hotel directly can be a good idea, as you can ask about the services and facilities that are essential for you to do business.
Doing so can often end up being cheaper too. Even if you book through a discount hotel site, the hotel will have to give a cut of the reduced rate to the website. If you ring the hotel directly and ask for a discount, they don’t need to give another party a cut, meaning you may end up with a better price than if you had booked through the website.
If you are booking a hotel for a large group, it is best to deal directly with a hotel to benefit from any group discount available. You may also be able to access some extra space within the hotel itself – for example, a meeting room that isn’t being used on a particular day – which can help you to get ready for meetings and presentations.
If a large group from your company are travelling together, then the booking should be conducted as one, even if you’re working across departments. Turner believes this is important so that things work smoothly. “Overall, you just have better control over the event rather than people doing things individually,” he explains. If you are booking for a large group with specialist needs, he says, it may be best to engage the services of a company that specialises in business travel. You can then give your specifications to the provider, who will then organise hotels for your party as part of their service.
If you are organising your travel yourself, see if you can get a personal recommendation. Third party review sites have their place, but are hampered by subjectivity. A city centre location may keep one person awake all night and result in a poor review, while others will see the value in being close to business hubs. Knowing the person whose opinion you are canvassing will also let you make an informed decision.
When you don’t have a personal contact with experience of a city or country, another option is to ask whoever you are meeting with for recommendations. There might be a particular hotel where their clients or suppliers usually stay, which may offer you a discount or better facilities on this basis. At the very least, a business associate will be able to recommend somewhere with a good reputation in a convenient location to their offices.
If you do have to rely on using a third party review site, make sure that you filter for business traveller reviews only. You may see rave reviews for a hotel only to discover on arrival that young families make up the bulk of the clientele: their priorities won’t match your own, so you will get a better picture if you focus on the views of fellow business travellers.
Travelling for business is an expensive undertaking, especially in the early days of a business connection, and the hotel that you choose sends a certain message about your company. Many businesses are concerned that picking a cheaper hotel may make their organisation look ‘low rent’, especially in countries where signs of significant wealth are a part of business. However, spending on luxury can also be a downside. In a country such as the Netherlands, for example, ostentatious spending is often seen as vulgar: a more financially prudent choice may also make companies keener to do business with you.
Of course, your choice of hotel may not be known to your business associates or potential clients. However, if the subject comes up in small talk, you don’t want to be forced into lying or avoiding the question.
It’s often said that location is everything, but choosing the right location is not always straightforward. Locating near to your clients is a clever step from an efficiency point of view, but it is not a cheap option. Conversely, picking a remotely-located hotel can prove a false economy – both in terms of productivity and real outlay on taxis if your hotel isn’t beside decent transport infrastructure. If staying on the outskirts is the only option available to your company, look around for hotels that offer complimentary shuttle services as it can really help cut down on costs.
Don’t assume that the pricing system for hotels in the UK is the same elsewhere. Stewart Reeder, Client Director at international software firm Exaxe, believes that mainland Europe has a high standard for business hotels even at a basic level. “I’ve found in Brussels that even budget hotels had extremely high standards and are designed for the business traveller,” he notes. “Many hotels in Brussels have Jacuzzis, pools and other features like that. I think it’s because they expect business travellers to unwind, whereas UK hotels are designed to facilitate additional work.”
When doing business abroad, it is imperative that your hotel has a good internet connection. Complimentary Wi-Fi is increasingly a feature of most hotels, but it’s still best to make sure that it is provided.
It might be worth calling the hotel to ask more questions about their internet services. Not all Wi-Fi is created equally, and you may want to ask questions about speed and capacity. In addition, many hotels only have strong Wi-Fi in communal spaces and meeting rooms. If you or your employees need to do a lot of work with a confidential nature, including Skype calls, setting up in the hotel lobby is not really an option. You may need a hotel that offers a strong internet connection within the bedrooms themselves.
Some hotels have a cap on usage, and prices can spiral when you exceed this. Wherever possible, choose a hotel with an unlimited internet usage package.
In several countries, it is now possible to reserve, check-in, stay and depart from a hotel without having to speak to a single individual. This reduces time wasted queueing and is definitely very efficient.
The first fully automated hotel opened in Norway during 2011 and facilities have sprung up around the continent. While the services vary from hotel to hotel, technology has enabled rapid progression in this area, with many services being operable from your smartphone. In some establishments you open your door using contactless technology from your smartphone, which is not only efficient but very safe.
There are, however, downsides to using fully automated hotels. Stewart Reeder, Client Director at Exaxe, has travelled extensively across Europe for business and stayed at automated hotels in Germany. “They are frustrating if you have a problem, as you can’t get any assistance except by using a phone to contact a call centre. They tend to be very basic. I only use them when I have an uncertain travel itinerary and may need accommodation with little notice,” he explains. A helpful middle ground is a hotel with automated facilities for those who want to maximise efficiency, but also desk staff and personnel for optimal customer service.
While it may be tempting to pick luxurious accommodation for your business trip, consider how much time you’ll actually be spending there. Beautiful architecture and five star service undoubtedly make for a pleasant experience, but you probably want to be in important meetings while you’re in-country rather than soaking up the comfort.
It’s also easy to be seduced by the hotel amenities, such as the pool and gym facilities. If you’re the kind of person who hits the gym daily then this may be useful but, in most cases, these will go unused. You do, however, pay for them indirectly in your hotel bill. It’s best to only pay for the amenities that you actually need.
Whether you are travelling yourself, or sending staff, don’t forget to check the safety of the area where your hotel is located. Again, don’t be afraid to ask your client for help with this. Every city has areas of high crime, but it’s not just this that you need to be wary of. Financial districts, while bustling and full of people during the day, can be a completely different place at night. Some hotels have extra security features, such as elevators that are only activated by a valid room key. These are a definite plus point if you’re looking at an area where crime is a factor.
After connectivity, cleanliness and safety, the next important thing to check is what the noise levels are in the area around the hotel. A hotel at the heart of the city may not be a wise choice if the attendant noise makes it difficult to sleep, leaving you and your team below par the next day.
In order to present a cohesive and professional business presence, you really need to be prepared to do business when you land. One thing to consider is check-in time at hotels. Depending on how long your flight is, your travel itinerary, and your in-country schedule, you may need to freshen up before you go to meetings. If this is the case, it’s best to double check with the hotel what their policy is about checking in. If you’re going to arrive early – and could use that time to freshen up, sleep, or prepare for a meeting – you should contact your hotel to see if you can arrange an earlier check in. There may be an additional charge for this, but you would probably pay similar money killing time in a coffee shop. A lot of hotels won’t let you check in earlier on the fly, but making an arrangement in advance may make a difference.
Another thing to check is the ironing or laundry facilities depending on the length of your stay. While irons seem to be a fairly basic item in UK hotels, they are not viewed as standard items in some European countries. When in doubt, bring your own iron to ensure you can present yourself well. Laundry services in the hotel may be helpful, especially if you are on a long business trip. Anything that can streamline your stay and let you focus on business is an advantage.
When pricing your hotel, remember to bear in mind that the price that you see is the basic rate. Business trips are expensive, and long hours are usually put in to try to get in as much value as possible. While not all hotels are guilty of this, a lot of business hotels charge a lot for the extras such as coffees and breakfasts. Depending on your location, this could be the only place to have breakfast before beginning your working day. In that case, your expenses could easily skyrocket, so check this before making a booking.
Organising the ideal hotel accommodation for your business trip may seem complex, but much of it boils down to balancing competing priorities and applying common sense. Double-check that your prospective hotel can meet your needs, get personal advice from locals if possible, and plan well in advance for optimum results.