Business + leisure

“Bleisure” simply points to an activity many of us might have done without naming it: taking some time during a work trip to see the city, or making a detour to unwind for a few days before flying back to work.

It might be a made up word that came into existence only a few years ago, but make no mistake: The bleisure phenomenon is quite real. Nonetheless, mixing work and play is a no-brainer. It is only natural to want to explore a new city, regardless of the original purpose of the trip.

ALL IN THE NUMBERS

Expedia Group’s business travel management platform, Egencia, polled 9,000 users from North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe—and discovered that bleisure travel is on the rise. In fact, 20 percent of North American business travelers resolved to try bleisure travel in 2018, and a whopping 74 percent of respondents were either planning or considering a bleisure trip in the next six months.

TAKE IT FROM AN INSIDER

Andrew Dyer is vice president of global supply at Egencia. He shares a few insights with hT.

According to Egencia data, the average length of stay for bleisure trips is typically four to five nights, compared to the average two nights for non-bleisure trips. By applying the right strategies to encourage business travelers to extend their stays, hoteliers can create highly profitable opportunities to increase their occupancy levels through offering specific incentives or running promotions.

Andrew Dyer

A majority of bleisure travelers stay in the same hotel that they did for business, so a meeting or conference creates a perfect opportunity to entice existing business guests to add extra leisure days to their stay. Properties that regularly host meetings and conferences, or are near to popular meetings and conference locations, could partner with event organizers to offer special group rates to attendees to encourage early arrivals or extended stays post-event.

At the heart of every bleisure traveler is a business traveler, so hoteliers must first appeal to their corporate needs. According to Egencia’s 4th Edition Business Travel and Technology survey, business travelers rank price and location above earning loyalty points when it comes to choosing a hotel. Knowing that business travelers respond primarily to factors related to convenience and cost, hoteliers should package their offers accordingly and promote additional amenities such as complimentary highspeed Wi-Fi and free onsite parking to transform business travelers into bleisure travelers.

UNDERSTANDING THE PHENOMENON

It is important for hotels to understand the forces and nature of bleisure travel in order to create better experiences. A 2014 report by BridgeStreet Global Hospitality revealed that 82 percent of survey participants used their free time on business trips to experience the destination city. The most preferred excursions, in order of descending popularity, were sightseeing, dining, exploring the art and culture scene, outdoor activities, and nightlife experiences.

Lack of time was found to be the most pressing reason among those who did not extend their work trip, followed by restrictive company policy or employer perception, undesirable locations, and cost. With an exception of company policy, a hotel can devise a strategy that saves the guest time and cost. Proximity to or inclusion of a weekend in a business trip increased the number of bleisure converts, the Egencia study found, giving hotels something to leverage on.

A June 2017 Bleisure Study conducted by Global Business Travel Association in partnership with Hilton Hotels & Resorts revealed what could have been an easy guess. More millennials (48 percent) extended their work trip for leisure versus gen-X travelers (33 percent) and baby boomers (23 percent.) No wonder we’ve seen such a surge in millennialcentricity in hotels.

By applying the right strategies to encourage business travelers to extend their stays, hoteliers can create highly profitable opportunities to increase their occupancy levels through offering specific incentives or running promotions.

The hospitality industry is no stranger to conferences and conventions in exotic locations worldwide. Attendees of such events were found to be more likely to extend their stay for pleasure, followed by client meetings, team offsites, and sales trips, according to a study by Luth Research for Expedia Media Solutions.

For many, leisure time equals family time. Such people are more likely to take their partner along on a work trip. David Daniel is an Italy-based entrepreneur and a former corporate traveler. “When I worked for IBM, my clients were all over the world. My wife would travel with me to my work sites,” he says. “It made perfect sense as the company was paying for my hotel... all we had to do is pay for my wife’s airfare!”

KNOWING WHAT THEY WANT

Knowing what a guest wants is a code hotels have long been trying to crack. And according to Luth Research, “Leisure days equal or exceed business days.” What works for hotels? Upon asking around, here’s what frequent bleisure travelers and professionals say what makes for a satisfying stay:

RELIABLE INTERNET CONNECTION

“It needs to be working! And it needs to be working properly. I can't work with a onembps connection that's always interrupted,” says Sebastian Scheplitz, founder and CEO of content and marketing agencies Translation Royale and WeGotGame.

“For hotels, my number one need is a reliable internet connection because of the nature of my business. I need to be online,” says Kiwami Livingston, an independent web developer and stage manager for a destination Caribbean music festival.

HEALTHY FOOD

Good breakfast is a dealmaker. “If I’m staying in a hotel it means I’m trying to recharge my body or get work done, in either case I don’t always want to spend time exploring for local cuisine. I’ll do that at lunch and dinner time,” Livingston says. Additionally, many travelers indicate a preference to steer clear of unhealthy junk food in favor of cost-effective and healthy choices.

SHOWER EXPERIENCE

When catering to the bleisure traveler, one must consider their basic needs. “How can hotels deliver the best possible experience?” prompts Jay Phillips, director of sales, global projects, at Hansgrohe U.K. “For bleisure travelers, it’s important that they feel at home. A good bed is obviously important―but what is often overlooked, and research shows is just as important for a hotel guest as an amenity, is a great shower experience. Whether it’s to kick start their day, or to relax at the end of the day, guests expect a shower to be at least as good, or even better than, their shower experience at home. Providing options is also key.”

Considering options, an ideal shower setup includes both a fixed showerhead and handheld sprayer.

A Raindance E overhead shower image

A Raindance E overhead shower by hansgrohe is complemented by the ShowerTablet 600 2 Function Exposed Shower Thermostat, as well as a handshower. Image courtesy of hansgrohe.

This gives guests a choice, and the presence of a handheld allows housekeeping staff to clean the deep recesses of the shower and bath. “Additional customization is possible through optional shower spray modes,” Phillips says. Hansgrohe has a wide range of showerhead and handshower offerings which feature the brand’s integrated ‘Select’ button and allows for easy and intuitive alternation among spray modes.”

DESK AND DEDICATED WORK AREA

It wouldn’t be called “bleisure” without a business element, and when it comes to work travelers are clear about their needs. A decent desk with a lamp and an ergonomic chair is an essential setup. “It would also be great to have a dedicated working area, like a small coworking space somewhere in the hotel, that doesn't cost extra and hopefully also offers a booth for video conferencing, so that I don’t have to leave the hotel just to find a space to take a call without the caller seeing my hotel room. If this ‘business center’ would come at no extra cost that would be a decision maker,” Scheplitz says.

PROXIMITY TO CITY CENTER

“Location near the city center is good for me because it allows exploration and meeting locals and travelers alike who are willing to have an experience,” Livingston says.

ENTERTAINMENT

Binge watching shows is the comfort zone many seek after long hours of work. Twenty-seven percent of business travelers admit they binge watch shows that they haven’t been able to watch at home while traveling, according to a recent Business Traveler Survey commissioned by Hyatt Place and Hyatt House.

FITNESS

The number of people wanting to work out while on the road is not insignificant. That said, many guests expect to encounter minimally-equipped gyms that lack sophistication. “Hotels oftentimes call one treadmill a gym, and that annoys me so much,” Scheplitz says.

WHAT ELSE?

Other amenities that, according to Scheplitz, would be a dealmaker are: an in-room iron at no extra charge for self-pressing clothes, a water tank to refill bottles as an alternative to tap, and shuttle service to explore the city.

Cost is always a concern. When asked about specific brands, Livingston had a clear answer. “I like the Aloft brand and the AC Hotels and try to stay when possible. They cater to my simple needs at a medium price. I tend to find more of the young, like-minded types when staying at these brands, the internet and amenities are reliable, and there seems to be a consistency with the staff training regarding customer interaction.”

“To meet both business and leisure customer needs, the industry needs to do a better job of educating their customers about their offering and tell guests what they should see when they get there. They need to provide additional local services and really bring their brand to life,” says Kelly Murphy, VP of marketing, in the BridgeStreet Global Hospitality report.

ACCOMMODATION FLEXIBILITY
H4 design concept caters

Holiday Inn’s new H4 design concept caters to the needs of bleisure travelers. Rendering courtesy of Holiday Inn/IHG.

In the longstanding battle between traditional lodging and Airbnb, there is yet again something to compete for: bleisure travelers. Guests extending their work trips for pleasure are seeking local experiences and options for exploring the city. This can give Airbnb an edge against large hotel chains, but boutique hotels also fit the bill for their local flavor.

Hotels remain the top accommodation choice this year, but services like Airbnb are seeing an increase thanks to millennials and bleisure travelers, according to 2018 Travel Trends report by WEX and Mastercard, shared with hT by ReportLinker.

“Hotel or Airbnb depends on how long the trip is and what it’s for. Sometimes you just want someone to clean your room and sheets for you if it’s a longer stay. If it’s a quick weekend for leisure I’ll check out Airbnb. For hotels, I typically try to find the best boutique hotel instead of bigger chains,” says New York-based photographer Micah Gantman.

Unique in its own right, Arrivedo is a meta-search engine for hotels. It lets users curate hotels based on nearby places to visit. “Arrivedo is a planning tool for travelers, a one stop shop where travelers can find a hotel search engine and things to do around the same area. No need to go into 10 different websites to find hotels and local activities. As bleisure travelers need to optimize their time and find the best activities around, Arrivedo can spare people from classic tourist traps and time wasters. Arrivedo is the first online platform that combines hotel search engine with curated content of things to do around the hotel,” says Alejandro Borasino, chief marketing officer.

PLAYING THEIR CARDS RIGHT

An increasing number of hotel brands are updating technologies, loyalty programs, and hotel designs to stay ahead of the curve. Keyless guestroom access, robot butlers, millennial-centric approach, multiple charging stations, and inclusion of coworking spaces indicate the changing tides.

Corporate demand within the hotel industry is 56 percent of total room nights, according to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research. In this wave, loyalty programs at Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt grew 13 percent CAGR on average between 2010 and 2015. “In our view, these programs spur bleisure trips, as business travelers can accumulate points as part of their business trip and then subsidize their leisure trip thereafter,” the report says.

A meeting of senses image 2
A meeting of senses image

"A meeting of senses" by The Ritz-Carlton creates immersive experiences for meetingand event attendees. Image courtesy of Marriott International.

The Ritz-Carlton launched “A Meeting of the Senses” back in 2016, an initiative to create immersive experiences while hosting luxury meetings and events. As part of the program, meeting planners drew “inspiration from unlikely sources to curate unique and unexpected food and beverage experiences, develop wellness-inspired breaks, and personalize itineraries that embrace the environment of each individual hotel and destination.”

Holiday Inn’s recent overhaul, the H4 design concept, targets the bleisure segment by introducing Welcome Nook, which acts as a landing zone for hanging coats, dropping keys, and organizing accessories; moveable desk for increased mobility; and more than five power outlet locations.

Marriott’s new combined loyalty program to be launched in August will strengthen perks with co-branded credit cards with American Express and JP Morgan Chase, increased mobile features for a smooth end-to-end experience, and the improved experiential program, Moments.

Mercure, the brand Accor Hotels dubs as “master when it comes to bleisure,” offers flexible work areas with public access, unlimited Wi-Fi, printer, noise reduction curtains, unlimited coffee, and family deals. Making family accommodations easy is a sure bleisure guest magnet.

Hotels are also encouraging conference attendees to extend their stay beyond the scheduled event by offering discounted rates and recommending local leisure activities, 2018 Travel Trends report says.

What steps will you take to welcome the bleisure traveler?

By Najook Pandya