Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking Toward 2014

Peering Into Roadboy's Crystal Ball.....

Well for us road warriors, 2014 will clearly usher in significant change.

Expect to see lots of change in the hospitality industry. The seeming avalanche of "rebranding" will continue. What used to be a Hilton hotel may well be a Doubletree on your next trip. It seems like some hotel chains are finding it much easier to upgrade and rebrand their tired flagship properties, rather than undertake the type of renovation needed to maintain 'flagship" quality. So we can expect a lot of superficial paint and finish upgrades. The old toilet will remain but the shower will be surrounded in new tile.

As sad as this can seem, I must admit I prefer re-branding to what happened to many old Sheraton properties a couple of decades ago when the once venerable "Sheraton" brand was allowed to rapidly deteriorate. It got to the point where a visit to a Sheraton was an inconsistent hit-or-miss affair that spanned from great to really decrepit.

Hilton is the chain I'll watch the closest in 2014. Hilton was "flipped" (again) in late 2013 by its private equity owners. Sadly, when hotels slip into a series private equity potato tosses, they tend to simply extrude short term profits at any cost. Room rates go up and maintenance goes down. It may well also result in the degradation of the perks enjoyed by their most loyal customers. I am a diamond Hilton HHonors member, so I hope I'm totally wrong.

However, if I am right this situation will pose a dynamic window of opportunity for Starwood and/or Hyatt to attract many fXus once loyal Hilton HHonors clients ands sprint ahead in market share.

Hotels Become More Global
2014 will almost certainly witness the rapid transformation of an increasingly worldwide hotel industry. More boutique international chains will likely venture into the US. Hopefully even smaller chains like the wonderful Spanish Room Mate chain will choose to expand in key US markets. Even Ikea is starting a hotel chain.

And, some high dollar recent expansions suggest that the superb Asian Langham Hotel chain is positioning itself for substantial growth in North American. And while domestic chains seem bent on  reducing the value of our points (pissing off their most loyal customers), Langham has developed an amazing loyalty program.

Marriott seems to be steadily enhancing its selection of fine Autograph and Edition "code sharing" properties. I can only say "awesome!" Marriott also announced it will soon introduce America to Europe's design-forward and meticulously run AC Hotels.

Repackaging to the Millennials
Many hotel chains are currently working very hard in their "design labs" to create a new generation of hotels that are xvzmore stylish, techno friendly and functional.

While I certainly welcome creative enhancements I have to stress that hotelier's keep their eyes on the ball. In my last three stays in Homewood Suites and two Doubletree's I had one toilet that didn't flush, one heater that didn't heat, and one shower drain that didn't drain....

So....I ask Hotelier's to, first and foremost, remember that what Road Warriors really want are:
• Quiet rooms with acoustically rated doors.
• Great beds made up with great linens (Most of us don't care if we get 50 pillows).
• Rooms that have no smell of mold or mildew.
• TV remote controls that actually work.
• Luxury shampoo's and conditioners.
• At least two decent sized trash cans and one decent sized recycle bin.
• Robust WiFi that delivers netflix.
• AC's that cool quietly in summer.
• Heater units that heat quietly in winter without smelling like burning dust.
• Toilets that effectively flush and do not run all night.

And most of all.....
• Showers and sinks that drain (standing in water YUK!)

Frequent Flier /Loyalty Programs
Ever notice that as fast as most of us assemble frequent flier points, the airlines and hotel chains are annually increasing the redemption requirements for our points making sure that our hard-won points become less and less valuable.

So start using them!

The "New" American
The slowly improving US Airways will soon evaporate just like America West did before it.

As soon as the federally imposed 4-year moratorium expires, expect the "new" American to immediately recompose its hub and spoke airports. There will likely be some big winners and there will be some big losers (remember how PIT was decimated after the collapse of the old US Air?). I am confident Sky Harbor will not be one of the losers.....

I mean being that most fliers hate LAX almost as much (if not more than) Atlanta and O'Hare, preserving Sky Harbor seems logical.

I also predict the new American will absorb all of the bad characteristics of American's rather awful frequent flier and first class upgrade policies, while allowing all of US Airway's best perks to evaporate. New American! Please make this Chairman a liar!

In 2014 Southwest will end its much loved free checked baggage policy. They will also institute change fees. Deal with it.

Southwest's cabins will also lose that beloved legroom as their planes undergo reconfiguration. Seat cushions will shrink and an additional row of seats will get jammed into all those 737's.

As I've lamented in the past, IMHO Southwest has lost its way. All of the distinguishing features that made it special are continuing to disappear one by one. I'm sure a lot of the die hard Southwest fans will still keep flying it. But, it now frequently offers the highest fares and is rapidly becoming "just another airline".

Violence in Coach
New and reconfigured airplanes cabins are being designed to serve an increasingly poor America.

Hence, already cramped coach cabins are going to become (impossible you say!) even more cramped. Expect to see the end of reclining seats.

Sadly, as all studies show, such conditions will result in increasing violence.

Business / First Class Become More Lavish
Just as the evaporation of our middle class is resulting in more hellish coach cabins, the increasing concentration of wealth by America's uber rich is resulting in airlines starting to add lavish (and breathtakingly costly) new classes of business and first class cabins on domestic transcontinental flights.

On the other side of the drapes the 1% that does not own their own private jets will enjoy new business and first class cabins similar to those offered on long-haul transoceanic flights. Imagine Jet Blue with a section in front featuring lay-flat beds. Well Jet Blue's slumber suites are on the way.

The 1% have made it clear they are more that happy to pay whatever it takes ($3,000 to $4,000) to avoid having to share the misery found in the back of the plane.

Luxury Buses
As airline coach cabins become more and more awful, I expect more and more of the point-to-point luxury bus lines to emerge. Where they are starting to appear, they run from downtown to downtown, offer clean spacious cabins in new buses. They offer power for your tablet and free wifi. As travelers become more aware of their service I believe they will expand mainly in high traffic corridors.

Rental Cars
Rental car companies are in a state of absorption. And product identity just gets more and more confusing. All of the big legacy rental car companies struggle to figure out how to market their newly acquired "leisure" market rental companies.

Expect some new names too ("Firefly" has emerged at many of Thrifty's locales.)

And, as the big car rental firms price themselves into oblivion, expect to see the continuing expansion of the upstarts. Fox, EZ and Advantage all seem to be improving while offering rental rates that are typically 1/2 what you'll pay at Avis or Hertz. And their cars are frequently newer and cleaner. Of course the shuttle experience on the upstarts is typically spotty and miserable.

Ahhh Roadboy's crystal ball is now becoming cloudy....

Roadboy's Travel © 2013

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