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NEW YORK, NY – Travel industry executives representing Best Western International, Southwest Airlines, and MasterCard Worldwide recently convened for the third annual Business Travel Summit for a disc

NEW YORK, NY – Travel industry executives representing Best Western International, Southwest Airlines, and MasterCard Worldwide recently convened for the third annual Business Travel Summit for a discussion of the recession’s impact on business travel. The roundtable, moderated by business travel expert Chris McGinnis, also provided tips for companies and individual business travelers to reign in expenses in a down economy.

According to Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western, though business travelers are employing a number of techniques to control costs and reduce spending, they are opting for shorter trips rather than canceling travel across the board. In addition, more companies are looking to mid-market hotels for corporate travel to streamline costs, where chains including Best Western incorporate all-inclusive pricing.

“Business travelers who have been nickeled and dimed at upscale and luxury hotels for amenities such as Internet access, breakfast, and parking are now coming through our doors more than ever before,” Dowling said. “This positions Best Western favorably with corporate travel managers and individual business travelers who are looking to aggressively cut costs any way possible.”

BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS

Travel brands are using the economic slowdown to grow business-to-business relationships in an effort to provide new value-added services to their customers. Southwest Airlines and Best Western recently announced a partnership that provides Best Western Rewards members the opportunity to earn Rapid Rewards credits for each qualifying hotel stay.

“Our partnership with Best Western comes at an ideal time for travelers eager to control spending while still hitting the road to maintain personal relationships with their clients,” said Linda Rutherford, vice president of communications and strategic outreach for Southwest Airlines.

EXPENSE MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Rutherford said Southwest’s corporate booking tool SWABIZ continues to attract business travelers. SWABIZ offers customers a wide range of tools that help road warriors efficiently plan, book, and purchase business travel.

George Zilvetti, vice president, co-brand development for MasterCard Worldwide, said even though the weak economy has led to a smaller number of people to view business trips as perk-filled experiences, several simple steps can be taken to minimize inconveniences.

“Small business travelers can reduce costs and receive perks such as rental car upgrades and cash back for purchases, while also eliminating certain fees for checked bags that some airlines have implemented,” he said. “Some of these cards also provide the technology, which eases the expense management process, thereby giving travel managers better control over their employees’ expenses.”

LOYALTY PROGRAMS

Increasingly, business travelers are taking advantage of loyalty programs and associated benefits, which allow them to take business trips that might have otherwise been cancelled. Best Western has tracked record numbers of loyalty point redemption in the past several months, with a 23 percent year-over-year increase in 2008. Free night award redemption jumped to a 36 percent year-over-year increase during December 2008 and January 2009 alone.

Companies continue to work hard to provide business travelers with more convenience and rewards when on the road. For example, Southwest Airlines introduced Rapid Rewards Dining, which gives business travelers more ways to accrue and use credits when flying on Southwest. The airline recently added the enhancement to its loyalty program, allowing its members to earn credits when dining at more than 9,000 restaurants, bars, and clubs across North America.