By Joe Brancatelli
April 10, 2014 --Here's a deep, dark secret: The Business Journals do not let me sit in Seat 2B just for the endlessly equivocal joy of being a business traveler. There's a business decision behind all the business travel.

As a journalist, I go where news is. As a business traveler who writes about business travel, I go where the business-travel news is. But without someone to pay the bills, there would be no Seat 2B column.

Why do The Business Journals pay the bills and run this column? They are in the business of, well, business news, so it makes sense to write about business travel for the frequent travelers who make up a huge portion of the readership. But news isn't free. It costs a pretty penny to produce. So the fine folks who foot the bill for Seat 2B naturally want to sell advertising around and near this column to offset the costs.

Which brings me to an amazing portrait of us: How and how much we spend on business travel, how we book our trips, how frequently we take them, what we take along and even how we view ourselves.

It was not produced by some high-falutin' lifestyle-research outfit, but the folks tasked with selling Seat 2B to advertisers.

I have two thoughts about this intriguing report:

  1. Boy, they sure know a lot about us;
  2. Advertisers aren't the only ones who should know about us.

So with an apology to the folks who are tasked with selling Seat 2B, here's who we are, by the numbers. It all rings true to me. Bet you'll see yourself in this, too.

We're big spenders again
Business travel tends to be a leading indicator of hard times, so it's no great surprise that our spending plunged hard and fast as the Great Recession hit. It fell to just $4,897 on average in 2009 from more than $10,000 in 2007. But we're investing heavily in travel again, laying out an average of $13,000 last year. Yet there is an anomaly in those numbers. Traditionally, business travel has also been a trailing indicator of an economic recovery because corporations are slow to commit resources to flights, hotel stays and car rentals until they are sure the good times have returned. Not this time, however. Our business-travel spending leapt to $12,220 in 2012 from just $7,812 in 2011. It may be the first time in decades that business travel presaged a more widespread economic rebound.

If they build it, we'll spend less
When The Business Journals report turns specific about spending, fascinating trends are revealed. The top line: While our spending on airlines and car rentals has risen sharply since 2007, we still spent less on hotels last year than we did six year ago. From 2007 to 2010, for example, we spent almost exactly the same amount on airlines and hotels. By 2011, however, our airline spending began to rise sharply. We spent about $6,600 last year on airfares, but a third less on hotels, at $4,400. Meanwhile, our spending on car rentals jumped to around $1,950 last year compared to $889 in 2007. That $4,400 spend on hotels last year is actually less than the approximately $4,800 we spent on lodging in 2007.

The inescapable bottom line, which is no surprise for anyone who's taken a basic economics class: Reducing supply as demand increases drives prices up. Car-rental firms offer fewer vehicles now compared to 2007 and airlines have sharply reduced the number of seats they offer since the Great Recession. That allowed them to raise prices as business-travel demand rebounded. But hotels never stopped building new lodgings and nightly rates have lagged. About four in ten rooms remain empty on an average night in America.

Same time next week
There's a library full of statistics attempting to quantify business travelers and their value to the travel industry. In the long run, though, business travelers are defined by the frequency of the trips we take. And, man, do readers of The Business Journals take trips. Almost all of us naturally classify ourselves as business travelers and it's no wonder: We take nearly 26 business trips a year and spend more than a third of the average work week laboring outside the office.

We also think differently about ourselves than infrequent travelers. While about half of each group define themselves as "inspired, nuts-and-bolts, get-it-done" person, a third of us business travelers define themselves as "a creative idea person." Conversely, one third of infrequent travelers categorize themselves as "a keep-it-going-comfortably person."

The tech we take along
Those of us who travel on business are also very heavy users of high-tech tools. Nearly three quarters of us have at least one smartphone and more than 60 percent of us carry a laptop. Half of us have a tablet, too. We're also much more satisfied with our tech tools than our travel. More than 70 percent of us are very or somewhat happy with our technology hardware, but only about half of us have the same opinion of the travel industry. We even like our office supplies better than we like travel. Oddly, though, we're even less satisfied with our credit cards: only 43 percent of us have a very or somewhat positive opinion of the payment systems. This is simply speculation on my part, but maybe the credit card industry is suffering as a result of its close, new relationship with the airlines.

Our DIY travel culture
A huge plurality, 47 percent of us, are empowered to make our own travel arrangements and a third more work for a company that has a mix of do-it-yourself travel and a designated travel manager or department. But those numbers mask some substantial differences between larger and smaller companies. At firms with fewer than 50 employees, 49 percent of business travelers make their own arrangements. That number falls to just 25 percent in companies with more than 1,000 employees. And the difference between where we book independently and where travel departments book is also dramatic. When employees make their own arrangements, 53 percent book directly with a travel provider. But when there is a travel manager or travel department making the arrangements, the online business-to-business portals of large travel agencies tend to get the business.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.