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Industry Experts Discuss Global Economy at Summit

1/28/2009

INDUSTRY EXPERTS ADDRESS BUSINESS TRAVEL TRENDS, FORECASTS AMID TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES

Best Western Business Travel Summit Cites Value As Primary Business Travel Need

TORONTO (Jan. 28, 2009) – Top travel executives representing Best Western International, WestJet, Aeroplan and the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) convened in Toronto last week for a panel discussion on the global economy and its impact on the state of business travel in 2009.

Moderator Tanya Racz, president of National Business Travel Association (NBTA) Canada, opened the discussion with results of a recent member survey in which 70 percent of respondents expected business travel to continue to expand, albeit at a slower pace in 2009. Panel participants supported these findings and agreed that business travel will continue, but in different ways.

“People are going to continue to travel,” said Richard Bartrem, vice-president of culture and communications for WestJet. “Our load factor hit record highs in December – the highest in WestJet’s history for the month. However, booking patterns are changing. People are waiting until the last minute to book in hopes that they will see a fire sale.”

Changes are evident in the hotel industry as well, which has seen four years of record growth. Best Western has seen the number of its bookings remain steady year-over-year, but cited a five to 10 percent decline in length of stay.

Panel participants also highlighted how rising travel costs are affecting both the managed and unmanaged business traveller, stressing that value is key to attracting business. Brands that do not “nickel-and-dime” with hidden fees and surprises will continue to fare well.

“More companies are moving their hotel business to the mid-market sector, for perception purposes and because all-inclusive pricing helps their bottom line,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western International. “Best Western requires its hoteliers to provide complimentary Internet and local phone calls, and many are choosing to offer free breakfast and parking, too. This positions us very favorably with travel managers who are cutting costs in an aggressive way.”

Tony Pollard, president of the HAC agreed. “People are looking for value and are seeking ways to reduce costs, but business travel must go on,” he said. “When you have a downturn, it’s an opportunity to position your brand to fit the needs of the traveller. People are looking for upgraded rooms, complimentary breakfast and free Internet access. The current economic climate has created a real opportunity for travel companies to better care for their customers.”

LOYALTY PROGRAM USAGE INCREASES
Canadians have some of the highest levels of participation in loyalty programs, which will continue to reward travellers and help offset costs. The 2009 Hotel Association of Canada Travel Survey found that 54 percent of travellers considered rewards programs very important, up from 32 percent just a year ago. In addition, a mere 16 percent said they were not important

Aeroplan, Canada’s premier loyalty program with over 70 world-class partners, is leaning on its learning experiences from the past 25 years to successfully navigate the program during these challenging times.

“These days, business travellers are more likely to book with airlines, car rental companies and hotels that offer loyalty programs with good reward value, greater flexibility and more choices that they can take advantage of for personal travel with friends and family,” said Nathalie Belanger, general manager of rewards management at Aeroplan. “We are also noticing anecdotal evidence of more small business owners redeeming their Aeroplan Miles for travel compared with years past.”

“Loyalty programs are definitely king as road warriors recognize their benefits and learn how to take full advantage of them,” said Dowling. “Best Western is seeing the highest-ever usage levels of Best Western Rewards and we’re responding by offering promotions virtually every day of 2009, to continue rewarding our loyal customers.”

Bartrem echoed this, saying rewards programs are important and that WestJet intends to introduce its own frequent flyer program in mid-2009.

ABOUT BEST WESTERN INTERNATIONAL
Best Western International is THE WORLD'S LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN®, providing marketing, reservations and operational support to over 4,000* independently owned and operated member hotels in 80* countries and territories worldwide. An industry pioneer since 1946, Best Western has grown into an iconic brand that hosts 400,000* worldwide guests each night. Best Western's diverse property portfolio, its greatest strength, stems from a business model designed to give owners maximum flexibility to address market-specific needs. Equally committed to the business and leisure traveller, Best Western recently embarked on a five-year mission to lead the hotel industry in customer care. Since 2004, Best Western has served as the Official Hotel of NASCAR®. For more information, visit www.bestwestern.com.

*Numbers are approximate and can fluctuate.

ABOUT NBTA CANADA
NBTA Canada, the leading organization for corporate travel professionals in Canada, is part of the National Business Travel Association (NBTA), the world’s premier business travel and corporate meetings organization. NBTA and its regional affiliates – NBTA Asia Pacific, the Brazilian Business Travel Association (ABGEV), NBTA Canada, NBTA Mexico and NBTA USA – serve a network of more than 15,000 business travel professionals around the globe with industry-leading events, networking, education & professional development, research, news & information, and advocacy. NBTA members, numbering more than 4,000 in 30 nations, are corporate and government travel and meetings managers, as well as travel service providers. They collectively manage and direct more than US$200 billion of global business travel and meetings expenditures annually on behalf of more than 10 million business travelers within their organizations. For more information, visit www.nbta.org.

ABOUT HAC
The Hotel Association of Canada supports, protects and promotes its members so they can excel in today's challenging business world. For over 95 years, it has helped them to compete by building and maintaining a high profile with governments, developing innovative services including the highly successful Green Key Rating Program, hosting events to celebrate excellence, and providing current industry information and resources. All activities share a singular goal: to help members be more competitive, successful and profitable. For more information, visit http://www.hotelassociation.ca/

ABOUT WESTJET
WestJet is Canada's leading high-value low-cost airline offering scheduled service throughout its 55-city North American and Caribbean network. Named one of Canada's most admired corporate cultures in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, WestJet pioneered low-cost flying in Canada. WestJet offers increased legroom, leather seats and live seatback television provided by Bell TV on its modern fleet of 76 Boeing Next-Generation 737 aircraft. With future confirmed deliveries for an additional 45 aircraft, bringing its fleet to 121 by 2013, WestJet strives to be the number one choice for travellers. For more information, visit www.westjet.com.

ABOUT AEROPLAN
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009, Aeroplan, Canada’s premier loyalty program, is owned by Groupe Aeroplan Inc., a leading international loyalty management corporation. Aeroplan's millions of members earn Aeroplan Miles with its growing network of over 70 world-class partners, representing more than 150 brands in the financial, retail, and travel sectors. In 2008, over 2 million rewards were issued to members including more than 1.5 million round-trip flights on Air Canada and Star Alliance carriers which offer travel to approximately 912 destinations worldwide. In addition to flights, members also have access to over 600 exciting specialty, merchandise, hotel, car rental and experiential rewards. For more information about Aeroplan, please visit www.groupeaeroplan.com or www.aeroplan.com