Hope is fighting its way through the dark clouds.
A few weeks ago, the US finally loosened travel restrictions on those overseas and vaccinated.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby claims he can foresee normality blooming by January of next year.
So business travel might truly begin in earnest? The expens(iv)e lunch will make its return?
Perhaps. But it's wise to be prepared for a few kinks and hiccups along the way. It's wise, too, to wonder what hotels are putting on their websites these days.
I'm moved, you see, by the first-world travails of my friend Kevin a few weekends ago. As a high-powered tech executive, he spent Friday night at a networking event. No, this isn't necessarily the finest way to end the week, but at least the event was in Napa.
Some of Kevin's high power comes from his innate drive. This is fueled every day by a strenuous, rigorous workout. At 5.30 in the morning. He makes sure, then, always to book a hotel with a fitness center.
There he was on Saturday morning, bounding around the Andaz Hotel in Napa -- a Hyatt property -- in search of the fitness center.
He'd checked in advance whether there was a fitness center. It was prominently displayed on the hotel's website. Here's a screenshot that was taken the week after Kevin's stay.
Kevin looked about the hotel, yet still couldn't locate this fitness center.
So he went to the reception desk and wondered if he'd networked a little too much the previous evening.
The helpful staff member explained that, well, the fitness center wasn't actually there. It was somewhere else entirely. At a HealthQuest establishment.
Naturally, Kevin opened his Google maps to check where this was. Lo and behold, it was 1.7 miles away.
"They said, 'this isn't a big deal,'" Kevin told me. "I replied, 'Oh yeah? How am I going to get there? What am I going to do? Bring a change of clothes in a suitcase? What about a padlock for my locker?'"
You might think Kevin a touch demanding. He might think the same on a good day. But this hotel was charging four-figure sums per night that weekend. And, well, it's the principle, isn't it? Such principles exist these days.
The hotel suggested he get an Uber. Kevin suggested they get a more accurate website.
"They were all 'what can we do to calm you down?'," Kevin told me. "And I responded, 'I don't know. I came here to have a nice time, and part of that includes having a gym on-site, which you claim to have."
Eventually, Kevin got an Uber and went to work out. I say eventually because his first two Uber drivers canceled. Perhaps they'd heard he wasn't in a good mood.
But I come here not to damn Kevin (or Hyatt, for that matter), nor to praise him. Instead, I come because Kevin's is by no means an isolated experience.
The Wall Street Journal last week explained how business travelers are becoming maddened by hotel website promises -- from many well-known brands -- of so-called business class services that simply don't materialize.
Promises of a hot breakfast or an evening happy hour turn out to be just miserable exaggerations. Some believe this is merely Covid-inspired conservatism. Others fear it's naked cost-cutting.
Perhaps, then, if they really want a resurgence in business travel, hotels should deeply consider the claims they make on their websites.
It's bad enough when they insist on charging maddening fees and slipping them onto bills without customers noticing. (Hello, you lovely energy fee.)
But it's the slightly insulting -- and seemingly utterly pointless -- elements that truly aggravate.
Oddly, another Hyatt hotel was in the news recently. This one, courtesy of the Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor, attempted to justify its $25 destination fee. Many business travelers would, I'm sure, be moved by the waived fee for incoming/outgoing taxes that goes into this mandatory $25.
But then there was this: "Panoramic views with this photo opportunity."
These destination fees -- or so-called resort fees -- supposedly cover tech delights such as free Wi-Fi and local phone calls on a landline.
Which rising spark believed that claiming your ability to take a picture out of a window was also covered by the charge?
It's a very basic element of e-commerce -- as of life -- not to blatantly hoodwink, deceive or gratuitously annoy your customers.
I know hotels have had it very hard of late. Hiring staff is very difficult, especially when you don't want to pay them much.
But if you really want business travelers to feel motivated, give them a good reason. Hotels surely know this.
Oddly enough, the Andaz Napa does have a (compulsory) destination fee of $30 plus tax per night. This covers many fine benefits, such as "on-site shoe shine," "bike rental from Velo to ride through the hills of wine country (10% off)", and, oh look, "local Health Club Pass & Fitness Classes."
You need to go right to the bottom of the website to discover that. Yes, Kevin. You actually paid for the fitness center that the hotel doesn't have actually have on-site.
As an experiment, I emailed the Andaz Napa, now Kevin's less favored hotel. I asked if it had a fitness center and what sort of equipment it enjoyed.
I received this very prompt response: "Unfortunately, we do not have a fitness center at our hotel. We do partner with a local gym in town called HealthQuest. There are passes available at the front desk for our guests to utilize the full gym."
Then I waited. I wanted to believe in human goodwill.
So, now several weeks after Kevin's experience, I went back to the Andaz site. Its list of amenities has rather shrunk.
Gone is room service. Gone, too, is the laundry. And gone, oh yes, is the fitness center.
Perhaps Kevin hadn't been the only one to complain.
Don't you love a happy ending?