As federal officials began to release billions of dollars from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal approved by Congress and signed into law in November 2021, the travel industry began to feel the impact with a quick increase in travel bookings.
Immediate travel by architects, engineers and lawyers working on the design, planning and approval phases of projects is quickly being replaced by workboot- and hardhat-wearing project crews. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts President and CEO Geoff Ballotti recently told Forbes that millions of construction workers travel every week. “And these are our customers, these are our business accounts,” he said.
Construction workers and repair crews often worked throughout the pandemic as “essential workers.” But the release of unprecedented levels of federal funds—including to already-planned and approved projects--has allowed companies big and small to immediately begin work in cities and rural areas across the nation. Federal officials claim the deal will add more than 1.5 million jobs per year for the next decade. In an analysis of government employment data, the Associated General Contractors of America in April said “construction employment increased in three-fourths of U.S. metro areas between March 2021 and March 2022” and exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 32 states in March.
Described by the White House as a “once-in-a-generation investment” in U.S. infrastructure, the deal is the “largest ever investments in broadband internet, rail and transit, clean energy and water.” It represents the largest investment in the nation’s highways since the interstate system was built by the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It includes $110 billion in funding to repair roads and bridges, $25 billion in airport improvements and $17 billion for ports. Funding will continue to be released annually through 2026.
For the construction firms awarded contracts, one of the biggest challenges now is finding qualified workers in the tight labor market. Some companies “have to go further and further to attract qualified people to fill open job positions,” said Charles Bacharach, Vice President, Worldwide Sales, Travel Leaders Corporate. In some instances, companies are negotiating trips home. “It’s almost an amenity that gets negotiated as terms of their employment,” he said. Others are relying on contract workers to meet their labor needs.
No matter how they’re hiring talent, companies need to ensure that travel arrangements, changes and any updates are as easy as possible, said Bacharach and others.
What Do Infrastructure Builders Need?
Travel for many of the infrastructure builders—be they road, bridge repair or specialty construction crews—typically involves driving, instead of flying—to a job site and clean, safe accommodations nearby. Safety factors often include the availability of parking for work trucks, other equipment or vehicles in a lighted, secure parking lot.
Most importantly, such companies and travelers need hotels near job site locations. The last thing workers want to do after a day spent building or repairing is to drive long distances for lodging.
Booking Travel & Changes
Larger construction firms may have a dedicated travel manager, online booking tool and travel management company (TMC) to help employees book travel and manage changes. At midsize and smaller firms team members in a wide range of roles are often tasked with travel, in addition to multiple other responsibilities. Some such companies rely on booking tools or dedicated agents at a designated TMC to find and book hotels to meet employee needs, manage changes and perhaps even reconcile expenses, often at a cost to the company.
Others have found that a partnership with Wyndham Business provides both an easy, self-service way to book rates as well as an experienced sales team to support small-to-midsized companies with project crew lodging and meetings. With over 6,100 select-service hotels in the US, Wyndham is the logical choice for infrastructure builders and logistics companies. Since the launch of Wyndham Business in 2020, Wyndham has increased sales resources and support mechanisms for nearly a thousand small to mid-size companies and counting, including the development of Wyndham Direct, a total booking, billing and business solution that offers on-demand reconciliation and customized reporting.
Weather, supply chain snags, permits and other issues often cause delays that require construction crews to extend, cancel or completely change hotel reservations. While some may try pre-paid hotel reservations to contain costs, just one delay on such a non-changeable reservation could be costly.
Negotiated rates with a preferred property or chain can help a company confirm rates within budgets and provide needed flexibility to change reservations and departure dates, when needed. Stronger-than-expected demand, along with higher labor and other costs, are prompting an increase in hotel rates according to CBRE Hotels Research and other analysts. CBRE in March upgraded its 2022 U.S. lodging forecast to project that occupancy, revenue per available room and average daily rate could all match or exceed 2019 levels as early as this year.
“Hotel capacity is tight,” Bacharach noted. So some of his infrastructure building clients are sharing their “concerns about costs, which are rising as capacity continues to get tighter. It’s good for the hotel, not good for the construction companies.”
Another challenge for one of her clients in this sector, said Executive Travel President Jennifer Belt is reintroducing travelers to new types of lodging properties. During the pandemic, travelers sometimes enjoyed experiences at higher-end properties that offered deeply discounted rates that disappeared as travel volumes increased. The focus now is properties within budget.
Payment & Expense
Another challenge for some infrastructure builders is the payment, reconciliation and reporting components of such employee travel. Corporate credit cards or virtual payment cards can be used, but require travelers or administrators to reconcile and track payments for business tax deductions. In addition to the dedicated contact to book and manage reservations, Wyndham Direct’s all-in-one solution offers a direct billing option to ease the pain for not only travelers, but administrators and finance.
Learn more about Wyndham Direct here: www.wyndhamdirect.com