Blending business and leisure travel serves up new sales opportunities.
It might be a relatively new term, but “bleisure” travel—the combination of business and leisure travel—has garnered quite a bit of attention in just a few short years. And travel agents who know how to ride the waves of shifting lifestyle, corporate and generational trends can find this an especially lucrative segment on which to focus.
Recent statistics indicate that more people than ever are blending business and leisure travel. According to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Consumer Trends report, the percentage of leisure trips that have a business component jumped to 17 percent, up from 11 percent in 2012 and 14 percent in 2015.
Growth is even greater for the New York City-based hybrid online/traditional travel agency CheapOair, according to Thomas Spagnola, the company’s senior vice president of supplier relations. “Our growth has been over 20 percent in bleisure travel each year for the past three years,” he says.
There are three main reasons for this uptick, Spagnola says. “Number one: Average ticket values have come down so much over the past three years, making it affordable to bring along a traveling companion to spend a few extra days together during the business trip. Number two: Cost savings to the company by staying over a Saturday night, which can reduce the cost per ticket even more.”
The third factor, according to Spagnola, is “an increase in travel by over 10 percent of tickets issued each year, because of the ticket prices reducing dramatically over the past three years.”
Jeff Kim, account manager for marketing and alliances at Asiana Airlines, agrees that “bleisure travel has steadily been on the rise over the past couple of years.” And generational shifts—namely, the increased presence of millennials in the workforce—are driving its popularity, he says.
“As young people these days are trying to achieve the most they can as early as they can, they seem to see full vacations during their young adulthood as luxuries they cannot afford,” Kim says. “The opportunity cost of lost—read: wasted—time is no longer justified by the salubrious benefits of recreation. Bleisure travel allows them the best of both worlds, permitting them to find their own balance between work fulfillment and personal edification—a balance that makes them happy and that they can enjoy guilt-free.”
The Bleisure Demographic
For Amy Blanco, branch manager at Omega World Travel in City of Industry, California, the average bleisure traveler is either a corporate or government employee, with an age anywhere between late twenties and early fifties. But the likelihood that any client might mix business with pleasure hinges on one important factor, she says. “It’s all based on corporate travel policies. As long as [it’s] allowed, many will take advantage of it.”
Another issue that can affect the ability to add a leisure component is the destination, according to Kim. “Particularly for our corporate clients who have to travel to Asia and beyond, it makes little sense for the passenger to spend almost 24 hours or more round trip on an airplane for a meeting/business trip for which they’re on the ground for less than 36 hours.”
“Many of our corporate clients are also realizing that all of our top destinations for business travel harbor rich cultural experiences that are worth devoting some vacation time to explore,” Kim adds. “Bleisure travel seems to be growing in popularity due to its relatively low-commitment and efficient, yet intensely fulfilling nature.”
Spagnola concurs that the destination can play a big part in whether a client decides to extend the visit. “‘True’ corporate travel is a shorter trip of one to three days average, and typically is part of a continual pattern by a traveler,” he explains. “Bleisure travel tends to lean toward ‘new’ business destinations or resort-type destinations that provide more of an opportunity to enjoy a few extra days to enjoy the cities or beaches as they are attending to business.”
Identifying ideal clients to build bleisure revenue is crucial for profit-minded travel agents. The business travelers who are most easily converted to bleisure, according to Blanco, come from “corporate accounts that have clients in other states or countries.” In addition, she notes, “It is possible to take leisure travelers and convert them to bleisure if the type of business/job they are in requires them to travel.”
To attract new bookings, Blanco’s agency sends out a weekly newsletter, “as long as it is allowed by our corporate/government accounts.”
For Spagnola, small and medium-sized businesses [SME] produce the “primary type of traveler that can be transitioned to a bleisure traveler,” he says. “We focus on our SME business, which tends to look more for a lower price as compared to convenience of the traditional business traveler. We focus heavily on the millennials as well, who are evolving the bleisure travel model.”
Spagnola’s company stresses the potential economic benefits of adding vacation time to a business trip. “With existing customers, when they utilize our call centers to book tickets, we make the suggestion of the flexibility of altering their travel dates to get better pricing, and to take advantage of the better price to extend their trip into a leisure trip at the same time.”
To get the word out, Spagnola says, “We promote heavily on our social media networks and utilize our call centers to suggest to business clients what the decrease in fare would be if they stayed over a Saturday night, or to look for options that would help best accommodate the business traveler to have a few leisure days of travel included in the trip.”
Of course, some types of business travelers simply cannot be converted to the bleisure segment, notes Blanco. “Corporate policies plays a big role in our ability to book bleisure travel,” she explains. “If it’s in their policy that they cannot combine business and leisure travel, we do not break that policy, and there is no way of navigating that.”
Spagnola agrees that agents should review each corporate client’s policies before determining the possibility of bleisure travel. “Some corporate accounts allow for specific travel regardless of destination,” he says. “It is considered ‘true business travel’ only. Other corporate accounts are price-sensitive, so they will consider approving the lower fare even though the trip is longer than the business trip originally scheduled.”
Challenges and Rewards
As with any market segment, bleisure travel comes with its own challenges and rewards. “The biggest challenge in selling bleisure travel is trying to keep the price of their airline ticket the same, or as close to their corporate travel fare as possible, so the out-of-pocket expense is minimal,” says Blanco. “The biggest reward is knowing that we met their expectation—that they’re happy with our service and will send us referrals.”
Spagnola says that agents who sell bleisure travel might sometimes need to justify the extended trip time. “Probably the only challenge is the mindset of a company questioning why a business trip is showing for five days, as compared to two, three days,” he explains. “The biggest reward is showing our clients that we are able to save them money on their travel for both leisure and business travel, and at the same time be able to let them experience some fun and relaxation during their trip.”
As travelers and their employers continue to evolve, Marvin Lee, account manager for marketing and alliances at Asiana Airlines, predicts a bright future for this category of travel. “The bleisure segment was an inevitable evolution in the travel industry that will only continue to get larger and larger,” he says. “With the increasing globalization of business and technology, the once-discrete line between business and leisure travel will blur further. There is no longer a reason for the business traveler to have to sacrifice leisure in order to be successful in their profession.”