Title: Living out of a suitcase
Blurb: Higher fuel costs and airport delays are forcing business executives to re-think the way they travel

Mitchell Slutsken leaned back in his home-office chair and glanced over his shoulder at a map of North America, that was jammed with dozens of multi-color pins, each of which represented a client.

He then pointed at a group of pins in the Toronto area, which designated series of retailers that he visited on his latest jaunt. But unlike many businessmen, Slutsken, an account executive with Ragazzi Furniture, did not fly to Toronto. Instead, he got into his car and drove. "I made five stops at clients and it only cost me $300 for hotel, gas and food," Slutsken said. "It I had flown, it would have cost $700."

There's nothing new about a Montreal businessman driving to Toronto. But the fact that a senior account executive like Slutsken,--who could easily afford to fly,-- does so, illustrates a significant shift in travel attitudes among many businessmen.

Air passenger travel is up 10 percent so far this year in North America, according to IATA statistics. And the industry has bounced back from its post-911 lows. Nevertheless, endless security checks, clogged international hubs and rising ticket prices, -- caused in part by airliners passing on fuel surcharges to clients,-- have sparked a reaction among business travelers. For example on short trips, many are electing to drive, rather than fly.

Long airport security delays both going-in and leaving airports have significantly increased travel times. A Montreal businessman flying to Toronto has to work in cab-time to the airport, an hour or two of waiting time there, flying time and the cab ride to his Toronto destination. In all, that works out to fairly close to the five hours it takes to drive there. For cross-border flights, or those between smaller cities, the delays are worse.

Like many Quebec-based high-end baby furniture manufacturers, Ragazzi Furniture draws a significant portion of its revenues from accounts in the U.S. and the rest of Canada. To stay on top, Slutsken has to be visible. As a result he does close to 20 business trips a year. "I drive as much as I can," Slutsken said. "I even take the car when I go down to Baltimore. Not only is it often cheaper, it gives you a lot more flexibility."

Slutsken is not alone. Many businessmen practically live out of a suitcase. Quebec has one of the world's most trade oriented economies. Last year the province exported $89 billion worth of goods to other countries and another $51.5 billion to the rest of Canada. The combined total works out to more than half of the province's $267 billion GDP. As a result, many Quebec execs spend an inordinate amount of time on the road, visiting customers, suppliers and affiliates.

That makes travel industry professionals like Stephen Pickford, director of corporate travel development at Aladdin Travel, happy. But it also puts a lot of pressure on them. "When a businessmen leaves town, he is making a significant investment of time and money, and he expects a payback," Pickford said. "For many executives, their productivity while they are on the road is often more important than the work they do back home."

Approximately 75 percent of Pickford's business is from corporate clients. Over the years, he's picked up a wealth of experience in managing an effective travel program. "The biggest mistake businessmen make is failing to plan ahead," Pickford said. "They are so used to a "just-in-time," mentality, that they even book travel to regularly scheduled events like conferences at the last minute."

Pickford advises clients to treat their business travel differently than their personal travel. For example it's not uncommon for business execs to spend hours or even days shopping online to try to find the absolutely best bargain, only to end up with marginal savings. "A lot of them don't realize that time is money," Pickford says. "For high income executives whose time can be worth hundreds of dollars a day, it pays to deal with a travel agent. We also have access to a lot of discounts and information that are just not available anywhere else."

Slutsken agreed. "If you are looking for a simple flight from one major hub to another, you can often find the information on the Net fairly easy," Slutsken said. "But if you are doing a multi-leg trip through regional airports, forget it. You need a good travel agent." Slutsken also counsels traveling light, and trying to stay in the same hotel chain each time. "You sleep a lot better when you are in familiar surroundings."

But while business travel can be hectic, there are its advantages. For example Slutsken's current trip was to his company's Florida head office, where he was staying in touch with Ragazzi's southern U.S. clients. "Don't laugh," he said with a chuckle in a telephone interview. "I really am working down here." Maybe. But it's a nice change.


Sidebar: Business travel tips

o Plan ahead wherever possible, especially for predictable events like trade shows and conferences. It's hard to find good fares unless you book at least seven to 14 days in advance.
o Reduce stress by showing up at airports early. Use the business centers that are located there to catch up on your E-mail and take care of paperwork.
o Don't excessively cluster appointments. On long trips you'll generally be exhausted, which makes you vulnerable to making big mistakes. Better to schedule several highly-productive meetings, than a slew of useless ones.
o When changing time zones, set your watch the day before to your destination time, so that your body adjusts faster to the jet lag.
o Don't schedule key meetings too close to your arrival time. Delays could throw off your schedule completely, as happened to Quebec premier Jean Charest on his latest jaunt to China.
o Travel is a time of high stress. Take the time to exercise every day, even if it's just a brisk walk.

Travel booking:
o When booking travel, shop around. Try checking a few Internet sites, such as Expedia.ca and Travelocity.ca, as well as those of the airlines. But keep it reasonable, time is money, especially for high-priced execs.
o Don't forget to call a travel agent. They often have access to unpublished rates and flight information.
o Keep abreast of industry news, don't book with carriers that are at the bottom of industry performance ratings.
o Be careful about which airports you fly through. Sometimes flying through a smaller hub will be a lot faster than a major one.
o Join a frequent flyer program.

On the road:
o Travel light. To avoid creasing shirts, get the dry cleaner to fold them and put them into plastic bags.
o Try to select one hotel chain that has branches in most of the cities you travel to. Most chains have similar decors throughout their networks. You'll sleep better in familiar surroundings.
o When trips are less than five hours, it often pays to drive rather than fly. Also rail appears to be making a comeback in certain circles, particularly in the Quebec-Windsor and the Boston-New York-Washington corridors.





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