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Finding Ways to Dull the Glamour of Travel

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As winter approaches (yes, I said the dreaded ‘W’ word), I find myself surfing more and more traveling websites. But rather than to stare (and drool) at pictures of beaches, I have started exploring articles and blogs about traveling, and have come across yet another gem.

Finding Ways to Dull the Glamour of Travel

By JOE SHARKEY

IN terms of perspective, it helps to have been toiling at this particular workbench for a while.

I remember the summer of 2000, when corporate travel departments were hyperventilating about soaring airfares and hotel costs. That was when Mark L. Walton, a travel policy consultant, gave a well-received talk during a seminar at the National Business Travel Association convention in Los Angeles.

Mr. Walton read a parody memorandum supposedly announcing new rules from the corporate travel department. Air travel was to be severely limited, the joke memo said. Instead, it said, “hitchhiking is strictly encouraged,” though employees hitching rides would receive “luminescent safety vests” for nighttime travel.

Also, the memo said, “All employees are encouraged to stay with relatives and friends while on company business.”

Everybody thought this was a riot — the hitchhiking and the idea that a proud, hard-charging road warrior might end up not in a nice Hilton but instead sleeping on a cousin’s couch. The joke was on the corporate travel managers.

So I was a little startled last week during a telephone conference held by American Express Business Travel, the corporate travel management subsidiary of American Express, when Frank Schnur, a vice president of the company’s Global Advisory Services, said that some corporate travel managers are actually making some of those suggestions.

“Another one of the things we’re seeing companies ask their employees to do is stay with friends and families when traveling,” Mr. Schnur said. “Or stay together, share hotel rooms, to avoid additional costs.” He was listing some of the ways that corporate travel managers are now trimming costs by as much as 30 percent, while still having employees “travel the same amount.”

It has been a long time since I last spoke with Mr. Walton, a co-founder of Consulting Strategies, which advises multinational corporations on travel.

I called him to ask: Have we finally come to this, to begging for space on a couch?

“I honestly have not heard that, and obviously the social aspect would prohibit most companies from having that kind of change,” he said. I thought immediately of the prospect of sharing a room on the road with the likes of Dwight Schrute, the repellent cubicle dweller played by Rainn Wilson in the television comedy “The Office.”

On the other hand, Mr. Walton said, staying with friends and relatives, if not actually willingly sharing a hotel room with a co-worker “might be an option some people think of” when left to their own discretion to decide how to reduce travel costs.

This might sound counterintuitive, but Mr. Walton thinks that most people actually like to take the occasional business trip and want to remain in the corporate travel lineup.

“As much as people complain about traveling, who ever says that they really don’t want to travel again? Nobody says that,” Mr. Walton said. “People want to get in an airplane once in a while. There is still some enjoyment in that, and people are going to figure out a way to still travel.”

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