Maximizing the Bleisure opportunity

Travel News 11 Jul 2016

‘Bleisure’ – the marriage of business and leisure travel – is soaring in popularity, with growing uptake among Millennials in particular.

While hotels are embracing the opportunities to tap into this rich market, many companies are yet to address bleisure in their travel policy. How does this impact employers’ policy planning, as well as their travelers?

Current trends in bleisure

Traveling on business has always given employees the chance to leisurely explore new cities, with road warriors traditionally forming the key bleisure market. In recent years however, the travel industry has not only seen more Americans joining the trend established by Asians and Latin Americans, but has also seen a spike in bleisure among younger employees.

The 2014 Bleisure Report by Bridgestreet Global Hospitality revealed that while 20% of 35 to 64 year olds are most likely to combine a business trip with a leisure holiday, 94% of under 35’s are more or equally likely to take a bleisure trip in the next five years. The Millennials are especially eager to take the most of their business travel opportunities and explore new destinations. This attitude is spurred on by the digital age, with Millennials inspired to actively share their adventures and experiences through social media.

94% of under 35’s are likely to take a bleisure trip

A 2014 Workstyles Study by Homewood Suites by Hilton found more than 50% of business travelers immerse themselves in local life as a form of relaxation. On average, travelers are only spending around one-third of their time in their hotel rooms.

Employees are seeking authentic experiences outside their hotel rooms, where they can engage with the community and ‘live like a local’. They believe these opportunities not only give them a worldlier perspective, but can help them understand different cultures that are relevant to their company, their role, or a work project.

Importantly, travelers appreciate the opportunity to ‘switch off’ and relax after the demands of their business trip.

Employers need to recognize that bleisure can lift an employee’s morale, sense of value, and loyalty to the business. It’s good for employees and good for the company.

Those who have partners and/or children joining them for the leisure element, can also enjoy destinations with their family rather than being separated from them for longer.

Hotel chains joining the race

The growth in bleisure is delivering a windfall to hotels, adding more room nights to their bookings with higher Average Daily Rates, and increasing the money spent per customer. To maximize this opportunity, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is among the major hotel companies targeting the bleisure market more aggressively.

Ashley Hansen, Regional Director of Sales & Marketing and Starwood Sales Organization Pacific says brands within the Starwood family are aiming to convert more business travelers into extended leisure guests, as the distinction between work and leisure lifestyles becomes increasingly blurred.

“Sheraton Hotels & Resorts has responded to the growing bleisure trend with the recent roll out of Paired, a new lobby bar food and beverage program,” Mr. Hansen says. Available throughout the weekend to cater to business guests staying on, Paired offers guests the opportunity to enjoy a mix of artisanal small plates and bar snacks, served with suggested premium wines and local craft beer.

“We’ve also seen more business travelers bringing their family members or significant others with them when they travel”.

St. Regis is targeting the family market with the brand’s Family Traditions at St. Regis program. Whether it is segway riding in Washington DC or a private tour of the Sistine chapel in Rome, this bleisure program gives travelers a range of activities and thoughtful touches to keep family guests entertained. Each St Regis property provides children friendly menus; special amenities including child-size robes, slippers and keepsakes; and babysitting services.

Members of Starwood’s loyalty program, Starwood Preferred Guest, who are looking to extend their trip, can also take advantage of exclusive member-only savings of up to 30% across Starwood’s restaurants and bars worldwide, as part of the brand’s SPG Restaurant & Bars program. With bleisure expected to continue to trend upwards, Starwood and other hotel companies will increasingly use creative methods to lure business travelers for longer.

A fresh look at company travel policies

While employees and hotel companies are reveling in the momentum of bleisure, many employers are faced with the challenge of how to address this element within their corporate travel policies.

If your company is ready to review its policy, you may need to consider the following:

Your bleisure culture – does your company generally support your employees adding leisure to their business trips, provided they have accrued leave time and the timing is appropriate? Is bleisure becoming a growing part of your company culture? If so, it’s time you address it in your policy.

Use of suppliers – do you want to encourage your employees to use your company’s preferred suppliers where possible for their leisure travel, to provide the same level of safety, security and peace of mind?

Use of loyalty/status points – are you happy for your employees to use the points they have earned through their business travel, for leisure travel activities? Some companies support this as a form of employee recognition or reward, while others may prefer to allocate these points to future business trip bookings.

Booking processes – who is responsible for booking your employee’s leisure travel, your travel manager, or the employee? In some companies, this may vary depending on the employee’s position in the company and/or the nature of their leisure travel.

Who pays for what? – do you need clear guidelines on what travel costs your company and your employees are responsible for, to eliminate confusion and unauthorized travel spend? In most cases, companies will pay for all travel costs to and from the business destination, and associated costs with the business trip itself. Employees are responsible for all other travel related expenses once the business part of their trip is completed.

Insurance – will your company extend its business travel insurance to cover your employee’s leisure activities, or will your employee be expected to organize their own insurance for any additional leisure travel?

Is your company ‘bleisure savvy’?

The growing focus on bleisure, particularly among younger business travelers, will only strengthen as these travelers mature and move into more senior roles. Employers are likely to come under increasing pressure to support bleisure among their traveling staff. If your business needs guidance in reviewing its policy to make bleisure part of your travel and company culture, contact your travel manager or Account Director for a more detailed analysis.

Bleisure Behavior

  • Employees add two to three extra days of leisure time to their business trip.
  • Key bleisure activities include local sightseeing, dining out, sporting events, art galleries and museums.
  • Older travelers are more likely to invite their family members, but will pay the additional costs.
  • Under 35s are more likely to be traveling alone.
  • Travelers want to experience the culture of their destination, not just conduct business.
  • Employees believe that a bleisure trip benefits them with more worldly experiences, and improves productivity by making them feel valued and providing opportunities to relax after their business trips.