When your business depends on travel, it’s not an either/or proposition. Indeed, if your business suffers in the current climate, you may have to travel even more in the coming year. So, like everything else in this challenging and unpredictable climate, business travel in 2009 will require extra savvy and attention to costs and efficiencies. Here’s a sampling of information to help.

WHEN AGENCIES MAKE SENSE

Travel is often among the top five budget items for business, and large corporations typically have specialists managing the scheduling and spending. With escalating transportation costs and complex rules, smaller companies are taking advantage of travel agencies that specialize in business needs.

“Agencies that specialize in corporate travel are more of a travel management corporation than an order taker,” explains Dave Hershberger, vice president and an owner of Prestige Travel Inc. in Cincinnati. “We help manage your travel budget, minimize cost and make the most of your money.”

Agencies today use more sophisticated software that can track company travel budgets and expenditures, status of employee trips and consistently apply company travel policies. This is typically managed through an internet booking tool that is customized to each company, adds Ron Pio, Cincinnati sales executive with AAA Corporate Travel.

For instance, if it’s company policy that any flight over $400 requires manager approval, a message is sent to a manager when an employee requests a flight over the limit. Software will compare airfares at multiple airports — such as Cincinnati, Dayton and Indianapolis.

Pio adds that an agent should help the company save time and money in other ways. “With additional baggage fees and exchange fees, a travel manager should be able to suggest how to deal with that now, mid-year in their budget.”

Travel agents used to make money on commissions from airlines. Today, they charge service fees to customers. When evaluating agencies, ask about experience in handling business travel accounts, hours of service, specific services available and check references provided. Find out if the agency has preferred relations or discounts with vendors, and inquire about the agency’s affiliations, accreditation or licenses.

Beverly Murphy, an agent with Wayfarer Travel in Cincinnati, a locally owned firm, adds that longevity and dependability are important. “We’re like a neighborhood agency,” she says.

Business professionals also are prime customers for leisure travel. Because of the economy, resorts and cruise lines are now offering extraordinary discounts. Although some professionals search for vacation deals on the internet, many are finding it pays to have an agent, says Beth Baran at Travel Leaders Inc. (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates). There are certain promotional discounts offered only to agents, she notes, and agencies often can beat the best prices found on the web.



AIRLINES MAKE AMENDS

Airlines and airports are making adjustments to win back frustrated executive travelers.

“Business travelers in general are key airline customers, so the airlines cater to them as best they can,” says Ted Bushelman, senior director of communications for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Bushelman cites new security screening technology and the registered traveler program as specific attempts to improve security and service since the terrorist attacks of 2001. “A great example at CVG is the Terminal 3 security addition, which opens next year,” Bushelman says of the addition that will increase screening-station capacity at the airport from the current nine stations to 20.

Airline bankruptcy and merger talks, coupled with high fuel costs, have caused airlines to cut capacity at airports across the country. CVG has gone from a peak of 670 daily departures in 2005 to about 380 today.

“It’s not a stretch to say that the airline industry today is facing some of its toughest challenges ever,” Bushelman admits. “This is something we think about and work on every day. We keep our finger on the pulse of the industry — monitoring and anticipating airline changes; planning and preparing.”

However, he notes, CVG still provides service to more than 90 cities, double that of the five surrounding airports combined. And it offers the best international access compared to any city in the Midwest region with the exceptions of Detroit and Chicago.

CHARTER OPTIONS GROW

Commercial airlines have felt increased competition for executive travelers from the growing charter aircraft industry.

Dwayne Alvarez, president of Air Alpha, a certified air charter service operating out of Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport since 1977, has seen a 300 to 400 percent increase in business in the last quarter of this year. “It’s going crazy,” he says.

Amy Christian, office manager for Blue Ash Aviation, another certified air charter service, says people are often shocked by low charter costs. “Local companies are discovering every day that there is an affordable option for regional travel,” she says.

Alvarez points out that commercial jetliners have access to 600 airports across the country, while private and charter aircraft can access more than 5,200 public airports. Charters can provide on-demand, 24-hour service, and point-to-point access. “We get you where you want to be, not where the airlines want to take you.”

Matt Garretson, managing partner and president of The Garretson Firm, a Blue Ash-based company that handles legal settlements, is a loyal Blue Ash Aviation customer. “When projects come up and our clients need us, we must respond,” he explains. “Often, we are able to travel privately with a small project team out of Blue Ash for a lower or similar cost than multiple, last-minute commercial flights.”

Charter companies emphasize customized services for customers. Alvarez’s daughter, Kristen, is Air Alpha’s director of marketing and business development, and flight coordinator. She acts as a concierge, coordinating every detail of a customer’s trip at no extra charge.

BEYOND THE RUNWAYS

Limousine or “black car” services are an important cog in the machinery of the business traveler. Newport-based Executive Transportation is one of those services that keeps adjusting its offerings to meet clients’ special needs.

“We started out as a taxi service,” says Tammy Bravo, the company’s finance manager. “We sold that (in 1988) and started the black car service.”

Today, Executive Transportation has a contract with CVG, making it the only third-party shuttle service to serve the airport, and has an exclusive contract with Procter & Gamble. The company fleet has Cadillac DTS luxury sedans, vans, motor coaches and stretch limos.

Getting travelers to and from the airport is big business for United Shuttle, based in Deerfield Township, but CVG trips are just one slice of that pie. As more business travelers seek competitive airfares at other airports in the region, more of them are using transport services — including United Shuttle’s Lincoln Town Cars and passenger vans — for those round-trips.

“As of now, 68 percent of our business is to different airports, including Columbus, Indianapolis, Dayton, Louisville and Lexington,” says owner Gus Vasiliadis.

Executive Transportation

Executive Transportation offers more than 45 years of ground transportation experience in the Tristate area. The family-owned-and-operated business provides 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week service. Executive provides private ride service in sedans, vans, SUVs, limousines, and 47-passenger or 55-passenger motor coaches. It is the exclusive hotel shuttle provider for the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and area hotels.
(859) 261-8841
www.executivetranscincy.com

CVG Parking Advantage
Customers can enjoy VIP access and earn points for free parking when they park with CVG Parking Advantage. There are no annual fees and no strings attached.
(859) 767-7400
www.cvgairport.com


Sheraton Cincinnati Airport Hotel
Guests’ ease and enjoyment are the top goals of the Sheraton Cincinnati Airport Hotel — the only full-service hotel on the grounds of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The hotel’s location, on-hand cuisine and professional staff make it easy for guests to conduct their business with flair. The Sheraton offers connections at the Link@Sheraton, an internet-style café in the lobby, which, when it opens in 2009, will feature computers with Microsoft, wireless internet, workstations, chairs and a communal table.
(859) 371-6166
www.sheraton.com/cincinnatiairport



Blue Ash Aviation
Blue Ash Aviation is a local, affordable, FAA-certified, on-demand air carrier that is conveniently located at the Blue Ash Airport. Blue Ash Aviation’s pilots will fly customers or their cargo to a location of their choice at a moment’s notice. Personal air travel means free parking, no waiting, no lost luggage and the ability to return on the customer’s schedule.
(513) 984-5880 or 1-800-917-6648
www.blueashaviation.com

TRAVEL LEADERS (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel)

Travel Leaders is a full-service agency that specializes in vacation and corporate travel. Travel Leaders can also assist customers with incentive/group travel. The agency has several travel planners with destination specialties to help customers with their dream vacation plans.
(859) 344-1313 or (859) 441-7992 or (513) 229-0360
www.travelleaders.com/nky