One-on-One with Jonathan Spira, Editorial Director, Frequent Business Traveler

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    Jonathan Spira, editorial director, Frequent Business Traveler magazine
    In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Jonathan Spira, Editorial Director, Frequent Business Traveler, a leading business and travel publication designed to cater to the travel and technology needs of the business traveler. Frequent Business Traveler’s staff writers are frequent business travelers themselves. They provide readers with the best in travel information, including top hotels, airline cabins, restaurants, and automobiles because they are always on the go, looking for interesting hotels and restaurants to bring to their readers’ attention.
    “We just published our findings on Hotel Pet Peeves and even the best hotels fall flat when it comes to providing quiet rooms where business travelers can work and sleep. While hotels are trying to best each other with in-room iPads and other technical wizardry, what business travelers really want is excellent service, great food, and a comfortable bed.”
    Jonathan Spira, Editorial Director, Frequent Business Traveler

    Frequent Business Traveler Magazine refers to its readers as being part of the iClass. Can you talk about this new class of consumer and what their interests and expectations are when it comes to business and leisure travel?
    The dawn of the Information Age brought with it a new group of consumers, one that thrives on information but also wants to have innovative ways to relax and disconnect. This group, the iClass, eschews traditional signs of luxury and conspicuous consumption. It’s a group of people that values function and that will pay more for things that will endure as well as once-in-a-lifetime experiences whose memories will endure.
    Members of the iClass are bringing an entirely new ethos to travel and it’s evident everywhere you look.
    What are some of the recent or growing demands that you’re seeing related to green travel?
    I have tried to be friendly to the environment since I was little. Growing up, my parents were very insistent that lights in unoccupied rooms be turned off and wasting anything was discouraged.
    I’ve continued along this path personally but I have also brought this philosophy to our magazines. We started The Diesel Driver magazine to bring attention to readers in the U.S. that diesels are an extremely green, fuel-efficient alternative to traditional gasoline-powered automobiles and I think, at least in a small way, we’ve helped raise people’s consciousness in this area.
    At Frequent Business Traveler, we seek out new and exciting innovations in green travel, from spending a week driving BMW’s experimental liquid-hydrogen powered 7 Series sedan to meeting with airline executives who are looking at biofuel as a green alternative. As new and more fuel efficient aircraft, such as the Boeing Dreamliner 787, come into the airlines’ fleets, we go out of our way to report on these and make readers aware of the benefits that both passengers and airlines will see.
    Given the economic climate today – combined with ultra-thin profit margins in the travel industry – being green will not only appeal to the many business travelers who are supportive of such efforts and who will support companies that embrace green solutions but it will also help keep costs down in many cases.
    How are airlines and hotels responding?
    Many hotels that are opening today are designed to be extremely energy efficient and meeting planners among others seek out these qualities. Being green isn’t limited directly to energy, however. I’ve recently visited at least a half-dozen hotels which had rooftop gardens for salad and herbs and some even keep beehives on the premises. When you speak of local, sustainable food, nothing beats running up to the roof to grab some lettuce and herbs.
    I’ve been to hotels with electric-vehicle charging stations and more and more properties offer guests free bicycles.
    Airlines, in the meantime, are flying fewer flights but the planes themselves are fuller, which is more energy efficient. In addition, many airlines are parking older aircraft – a good example is American Airlines’ program of replacing MD-80s with brand new 737-800s – which immediately makes each flight 30% more energy efficient. American started to look for ways of saving energy and fuel years ago and was one of the first airlines to taxi to the gate on one engine.
    On the automotive front, we have a lot to learn from European markets. In Germany and the United Kingdom, roughly 50% of all new car sales are diesel. Here in the U.S., that figure is closer to 2%. The diesels that are sold today are cleaner and greener than their gasoline-powered cousins and leadership in this area is coming from German car makers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen.
    Talk about the new attitude towards luxury and how that plays out in business travel planning, both from a corporate perspective and the executive travelers’ point of view?
    Luxury is a very personal concept but I think we can draw a lot from what members of the iClass looks for as I mentioned earlier.
    From a business-travel perspective, we’ve learned a lot from our ongoing research about travelers’ pet peeves. Even luxury properties seem to fall flat when it comes to the basics, including working Internet, a noise-free environment, drapes that fully darken the room (really important for business travelers), and uncomfortable desk chairs.
    From my own perspective, and I’ve already hit the 50,000 mile mark for 2012 by early June, I want a comfortable bed – both in the aircraft and in the hotel room – with good pillows. I want to be able to dine when it’s convenient for me (again, both in the air and on the ground), and I need a suitable work environment so I can get done what I need to get done.
    The true luxury for me is free time. When I travel, I try to set at least half a day aside (if not more) to explore places, especially when I’ve never been to a particular destination before.
    Can you tell our readers about the Frequent Business Traveler GlobeRunner Awards?
    The Frequent Business Traveler GlobeRunner Awards are a reader’s choice award, something my late brother Greg, who co-founded the magazine, was a big believer in as he created the Internet Baseball Awards in 1991, 2 years before the Web browser was invented. The votes are in, our readers have recognized the best in travel as they see it, and we’ll be announcing the results on July 18th on our website. Almost 50,000 votes were cast.
    Based on what your readers indicate, what are the top wants/needs of today’s travelers that aren’t being addressed?
    On the one hand, their wants and needs aren’t dissimilar from what most people would want, a quiet, clean, comfortable hotel room, good customer service, great dining options, on-time flights, and so on. On the other hand, they seek out authentic, local experiences, and they are willing to spend time and money to get them.
    In addition, business travelers also want information about destinations and services that are appropriate for them – and that’s where we come in. Since Frequent Business Traveler is written by business travelers for the business traveler; we can speak from experience.

    What’s your 20,000 foot view of the business travel industry? Where do you see things going in the next 3-5 years?
    The business travel industry is incredibly exciting yet it’s a tough business to be in. With industry consolidation and expansion happening at the same moment, it’s truly a challenge to manage, especially if you happen to be the customer.
    Looking ahead, I see hotels moving to provide more individualized services for guests, such as one chain which allows its most frequent guests to define their own 24-hour day (the guest can check in at any time and check out 24 hours later) while making substantive improvements in getting the small things right. We just published our findings on Hotel Pet Peeves and even the best hotels fall flat when it comes to providing quiet rooms where business travelers can work and sleep. While hotels are trying to best each other with in-room iPads and other technical wizardry, what business travelers really want is excellent service, great food, and a comfortable bed.

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