Ten Shades of Bleisure Travel

Business or pleasure? Both. The travel industry has recently begun to stir around the concept of ‘bleisure’ travel. Yes it’s a jarring portmanteau describing the blurring of the lines between business and leisure travel. However annoying, it does capture a fundamental essence of how travel is changing these days. Bleisure (or the concept behind it) goes much deeper than just a few extra room nights and meals.

It also points to a huge shift in our motivations for traveling. Mobility, access to information, and innovations in travel products are rewriting the rules of engagement. The classic bifurcation between leisure and business is an outdated paradigm. 

Here are ten intersections to watch for:

1. Future of work

Work from anywhere, play anywhere, be anywhere. Movies and shows like Office Space and The Office satirized a bygone era of cubicles and stationary. Telecommuting has allowed more flexibility when it comes to location but also more freedom to work on our own time. Suddenly, spending a week working from your aging grandparents guestroom has become a reality. The rise in popularity of coworking spaces also offers business travelers more freedom from the traditional workspace.

2. Travel is now about cultural belonging

Leisure travel used to be an exercise in observation, rather than cultural integration. Like spectators in a zoo, the iconic tourist with guidebook in hand would set off to see the ‘sites’. But mobile devices and other digital innovations in social media, search, reviews, and navigation have transformed the travel experience into a deeper quest for social inclusion and inspiration. Avoiding the tourist traps while sharing photos and tweets is the new norm. In this same vein, educational and vocationally driven in-destination activities such as tech meetups and pop-up events are growing in popularity. It's a blurring of the lines between two traditionally distinct paradigms in travel.

3. Business travel is here to stay

The webinar and teleconferencing industry made a killing during the Great Recession when enterprises pushed cuts to travel budgets during lean times. Many hailed voice-over-IP and video as cost killing technologies, obviating the need for business travel all together. But work these days remains collaborative. The new work models and industries that have exploded alongside the digital economy still require direct collaboration, project based work, and other interactive work forms that benefit from face-to-face time. Physical interaction is also critical to securing long lasting work relationships and even in-person events i.e. conferences, forums, and expos which are huge business these days.

4. Tribal Travel

Expect more group travel as workplace mobility becomes commonplace. For most, traditional business travel has been a lonely game. Social networking will allow professionals to link up with like-minded professionals on the ground, to coordinate bleisure-oriented excursions beyond the office with coworkers and new contacts.  Finding your tribe while away on business will become a measuring stick for successful business travel. Business travelers will also see more opportunities to include their spouses and children. The sharing economy will allow households to offset living costs by renting (sharing) their spaces while away. Working out of a hotel suite or flat while the family enjoys the beach or pool is a more feasible reality. It's also a big business opportunity for the transport and accommodations players.

5. More options and freedom

Hotels are no longer the only option. The rise in alternative accommodations (Airbnb) allow for fuller integration with local culture, while saving the business traveler money. Having the comforts of home i.e. a kitchen, proper work space, and a grocery store around the corner makes for a more productive work experience. With more flexibility, travelers can choose more personalized experiences according to their unique travel needs. Enterprises are increasingly moving toward ‘unmanaged’ business travel policies where the employee, not employer or managed travel agency books transport and accommodation.

6. Business travelers have big budgets

Hotels target the high-spend business travelers living and eating on the company’s dime. Once settled, these guests are more likely to stay put as they transition from business to bleisure mode. For a hotel brand, capturing the loyalty of a business traveler is gold. Capturing the loyalty of a bleisure traveler could be the ultimate prize.

7. Millennials are bleisure travelers

Those born between 1881 and 1996 will make up over 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2015 and travel companies are screaming for any opportunity to get in front of the oft talked about millennial. Understanding what makes millennials tick and their spending habits has become something of a science for hotel and airline marketers, and consumer analysts. As millennials take on more senior roles within their respective organizations, they will embody the new face of the business traveler.

8. Enterprises are mobile

Access to information through our smartphones and tablets has largely made bleisure travel a reality. The various business services attached to our mobile devices, everything from cloud based email and CRM software i.e. salesforce.com to the basics like navigation and telecommunications have made location a relative term. As mobile networks become truly global and begin to communicate with each other seamlessly across international borders – i.e. international data roaming, people will have even greater freedom to extend travel beyond the boardroom.  Mobile banking and payments via services like ApplePay and Google Wallet will also eliminate the various financial obstacles associated with travel.

9.   Data is everywhere

Understanding and targeting the new bleisure traveler will become easier with advancements in big data in marketing. Once habits are better understood, travel companies will be able to create new and better products tailored specifically to this demographic. Special room rates and airfares, discounts on in-destination activities, and bundled services aimed specifically at the bleisure traveler will become more commonplace.

10. The bottom line

One trillion dollars was spent on business travel in 2013, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Leisure and unmanaged business travel accounts for over one trillion dollars, according to industry research firm Phocuswright. Travel suppliers and intermediaries have traditionally looked at these two camps through very distinct lenses. As these universes collide, they will inevitably create friction, along with winners and losers for the industry.