FinanceAsia did not invent its business travel poll as a leading indicator, but then again as a forward-looking measure of sentiment it has some merit.
People tend to say they will travel more or less depending on their view of the business climate in the coming 12 months. Last year our poll pretty accurately forecast what a dreadful year 2002 would turn out to be. Indeed, 64% of respondents said they would travel less in 2002.
This year's travel poll received 512 votes, and 398 of those business travelers said they expected to travel more in 2003. So while only 36% thought they would travel more in 2002, a colossal 78% thought they would do more business travel in 2003. This data suggests that 2003 will offer a better Asian business climate, and let us hope it turns out to be as accurate as last year's poll proved.
The respondents to our poll represent a sample of the region's decisionmakers. Of the respondents, 122 spend more than 50 nights a year in hotel rooms. The average would be around 35 nights. Moreover, 329 of the respondents travel business class.
The top slots in this year's business travel poll have not changed much. Singapore's Ritz-Carlton Millennia retains its place as the best business hotel in Asia; while Singapore Airlines retains the votes in the best airline category. Cathay Pacific's lounge, the Wing, retains its position as the best airline lounge in the region; and Shangri-La holds its position as the best hotel group. The top-ranked hotel in each city is largely unchanged; which only shows those at the top have continued to keep their standards high.
One interesting thing was that the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai garnered 205 votes in the best hotel in Shanghai category, a number beaten in popularity only by the Ritz in Singapore which garnered 215 votes.
In a new category, the Banyan Tree Phuket was named the best spa resort in Asia.
As ever, respondents became most excited in answering our questions about what the best and worst thing an airline had done for them was.
First, the positives. Typically, a lot of respondents cited upgrades to first class as the best thing an airline has done for them. Obviously, this rarely fails to improve customer satisfaction.
At a more personal level, one respondent noted that Cathay had allowed him to board a flight even though the gate had closed five minutes before; and that this had meant he made a vital meeting in New York.
One passenger said favourable things about Singapore Airlines online check-in facility; many about flat beds; another pointed to the salvations of inflight massage; and positive comments generally came back about Cathay's new business class.
One quirky response was: "I feel good as long as the seat is clean and newspapers and magazines are new and crisp."
Said one grateful flyer: "I left a present for my daughter on board after an SQ flight to Hong Kong. They traced it to Melbourne and sent it back to me in Hong Kong."
Another recalled: "When I injured my foot in Taipei, Cathay's ground crew met me and 'delivered' me to the taxi rank effortlessly."
Probably the best advert for Cathay's 'Service from the Heart' tagline was a real experience one respondent had: "After 9/11 I had to fly home urgently to be with my mother-in-law who was dying of cancer. Given the shutdown of the US airports, it was uncertain if I would be able to get there in time. Cathay was incredible. They gave me first priority and made sure I got on the very first plane. They called me every day to notify me of the status and were extremely accommodating. It is an experience I will never forget. I arrived in the nick of time due to their dedication and hard work."
Hard to beat, clearly, as an example of an airline behaving in a human fashion.
And for those with children, came the following piece of interesting advice: "My three year old suffers from ear aches every time the plane descends. One SIA stewardess heard her screams in mid-descent and taught us a trick she uses on her own daughter - whipping out hot towels to press against each ear. For some reason it worked, and has ever since. I will never fly on an airline that does not have hot towels."
Then again, there were a fair few responses who had responded that the best thing an airline had done was "Nothing in particular", which show that expectations tend to be a little low.
Indeed, a good deal more numerous than the heartwarming stories, were the horror stories.
Said one: "When I flew to London recently they upgraded me to first class." So far so good. "But they left my wife in business class, and then I lost my wedding ring in the sleeper bed. Not only was my wife unhappy about being in business class, the airline never found the wedding ring."
If this sounds bad, how about the following: "While on a roadshow in Europe, BA managed to lose our bags (bankers and client) twice in a row. The first time was on a flight from Frankfurt to Glasgow, and we retrieved them in Edinburgh. Then on the Edinburgh to London flight they lost the bags again."
Baggage mishandling is probably the most frequent complaint we get. Expectation management, in an era where airlines run gushing advertising campaigns is another. Said one disgruntled traveller: "I was disappointed to find that the heavily advertised new business class on Cathay had not been introduced on my flight from Hong Kong to London."
Bad airline staff are clearly a major gripe. Said one: "I was asked to fill out a customer satisfaction form by an incompetent flight attendant who then insisted that I explain to her in person what her faults were."
Then there's food: "I hate the fact that Cathay serves me the same Indian vegetarian meal every time without any variation."
Another complaint was summed up by the following remark: "Unfriendly and racist crew members in the US". A meaningful chunk of respondents made similar points, and indicated they felt varying degrees of racism on US and European airlines. Complaints about US airline ran to several volumes: "Northwest flew with an aircraft with three out-of-order toilets on a fully booked business class."
Then there are the Japanese airlines, which were also summarily panned. Said one: "My worst experience is with JAL, which, unfortunately I have flown frequently. JAL has the dreariest business class lounges in Asia, and while the staff are polite, JAL is not even close to the level of service you get in other Asian airlines' business class. The business class seats are also uncomfortable on take-off and landing due to poor design of the headrest, which has to be stowed during take-off and landing, meaning there is big bump in the middle of your back so you can't sit properly."
Another passenger may well fall into the over-demanding camp with the following complaint: "The airline did not upgrade my son on a flight from Hong Kong to Seoul. I was in business class and am a Diamond member."
On the flipside, another irate passenger said their pet hate was kids in business class. "The first airline to have a child free business class policy will have my vote," they noted.
Anyway, thanks to all respondents for taking the time to fill out the survey. The lucky draw winner of this year's luxury weekend Ritz-Carlton spa break was Debbie Liu, an analyst with Macquarie Bank in Hong Kong.
For full results of the poll, with the best hotels in each Asian city, see the next issue of FinanceAsia magazine. Contact [email protected] or call (852) 21225224 to obtain a copy.