Bleisure. Even if you haven't heard of it, chances are it's happening at your venue.
Bleisure, as the name implies, is a blending of business and leisure travel. There are two main types of bleisure: business trips or group business travel that is extended on the front or back end of a visit, and business trips taken with friends and family coming along for the ride.
The trend is becoming more popular, especially with younger generations. According to the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) 37% of North American-based business travelers extended a work trip for leisure in 2017, up from 36% the year before.
Another survey from Hilton Hotel & Resorts found that seven out of 10 business travelers ages 25-30 want to extend work trips for mini vacations.
Another GBTA stat: On their last bleisure trip, 44% of business travelers traveled with someone else for the leisure portion of their trip.
The most common trips that morph into bleisure are for conference travel, followed by external meetings and sales meetings, according to Expedia Group. Couple these statistics with the fact that, according to the U.S. Travel Association's State of American Vacation 2018, more than half of Americans reported having unused vacation days at the end of 2017, and it's clear that the hospitality industry is staring at a huge opportunity.
Hoteliers who can use this knowledge will see longer stays and higher traveler satisfaction, according to experts.
“Our research shows that an overwhelming majority of bleisure travelers stay at the same place for both the business and leisure portions of their trip,” explains Scott Solombrino, COO and executive director of GBTA. “While companies still have a lot to work out when it comes to understanding liability and duty of care implications around bleisure travel, this presents a great opportunity for property managers to provide a memorable experience or encourage travelers to join their loyalty program, both of which will drive returning customers.”
So how can hoteliers boost their bleisure bookings and use the trend to attract more planners? Here are four strategies that can help.
Take advantage of bleisure opportunities now
1. Let planners know bleisure is a focus
You can't sell what you don't publicize, so getting the message out about bleisure offerings early in the booking process will be paramount. You can create bleisure packages and offer them to planners to pass along to attendees. You can also reach out directly to business travelers with bleisure packages, says Sarah Howell, a business travel expert and founder of Road Warriorette, an online business travel blog.
“I've gotten emails directly from the hotels I've visited for business travel regarding extending my business trips,” she explains. “Depending on the reservation process, you might not get their information directly, but most planners are happy to pass along offers that will help employees make the most of their business trip.”
2. Give travelers a reason to stay where they are
When it comes to business travel, it's typically the planners and in-house travel agents who make reservations for sales meetings and book room blocks for conferences. While price is definitely an issue for them, bleisure travelers are often even more price-conscious. You don't want to offend planners by giving bleisure travelers prices that are less than the corporate rates, but you can offer them specific perks that will make your venue more appealing.
“Consider a discounted rate for the extended stay or a free appetizer or glass of wine as part of their reservation,” Howell says.
A free breakfast for all travelers in the bleisure party, for example, can be very appealing and doesn't cost a lot in the long run.
3. Make it easy for people to switch between business and pleasure
Bleisure travelers extend their stays for days, not weeks, so they want fun, fast activities that will keep them entertained. Consider putting together two- to four-day post-conference or meeting programs that incorporate sightseeing, meals, and athletic activities such as hikes, bicycling, and water sports. Pass that information on to planners so they can do your marketing for you.
Four out of five bleisure travelers spend up to five hours researching what they can do once their business trip is over, exploring online or talking to co-workers. Venues that can take that planning off the traveler's shoulders will earn brownie points — and loyalty — from already-overworked guests.
“As travelers, we don't really have a lot of extra time to plan,” Howell says. “If hotels can have packages for us or someone who can make us reservations for sightseeing or dinners when we are off, it's going to be welcome help.”
Activities aside, hoteliers should also take into account that bleisure travelers appreciate suites or one-bedroom accommodations so they can stay on task once their travel companions go to sleep. And planners will, too, since they'll know employees will be focused on work when they need to be. If these accommodations aren’t available (or affordable) for planners, coworking spaces and business centers also hold value and appeal.
4. Consider the family
According to the GBTA, almost three out of five (58%) bleisure travelers have children at home, and travelers with kids are just as likely to extend their trips as childless travelers. While venues don't necessarily need to create kid camps or child-centric events, doing so can definitely boost the appeal of a bleisure trip. Howell says she recently brought her husband and young children along on a business trip because the venue offered s'mores roasting, pool games, and arts and crafts programs.
“With woman travelers taking almost 50% of business trips, it's a good idea to offer programs that can help keep families busy while Mom or Dad is being productive.”
Play up the bleisure benefit
Companies that offer bleisure options may see better employee retention and satisfaction, especially for notoriously fickle millennials. Let planners know that you want to be part of that retention process and will do whatever you can to make both the business and leisure parts of employee travel as seamless and easy as possible.