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Business travel costs expected to rise

Hotel room rates climbing 5 percent or more. Air fares also increasing at least 5 percent domestically and 7 percent on international flights. Car-rental rates up 4 to 5 percent. A little less bounce to business travel, with growth slipping to 3 to 4 percent in 1996.

That is what D.K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd., Topaz Enterprises Inc., American Express and other travel experts see in the crystal ball for 1997.

They also spot a changing mix in who is on the road. Women now make up 25 percent of the United States' 45-million corporate travelers, up from 20 percent five years ago, and, thanks to downsizing, upper echelon executives are now making many of the business trips formerly assigned to middle managers.

"About 20 percent of today's frequent travelers earn $100,000 or more," said Shawn Flaherty of the Travel Industry Association of America. "Those are the people the airlines and hotels are targeting with special services."

The higher rank of so many of today's business travelers helps explain why luxury hotels are so full.

"But it's not only growing demand," said Randy Smith, chief executive of Smith Travel Research. "The fact is that virtually no new luxury hotels are being built in the U.S: the Loews in Miami, a Hyatt at Chicago's Convention Center and not much more."

Smith added, "In most major markets in 1997, particularly New York, Chicago and San Francisco, it will be difficult to get rooms at any price during the workweek."

The additional services, including the first tests of interactive televisions in guest rooms, aren't entirely calming the discontent of business travelers.

"We've found that the satisfaction rating of hotels has gone down," said David Evans, Shifflet's operations director. "That's mostly because people are expecting more and more from their hotel. They want it all: checkout on TV, a kitchen at an extended-stay hotel, a port to plug in their modem and now access to the Internet."