As business travelers increasingly add leisure time to their trips, bleisure travel offers lucrative new possibilities for travel advisors.
While the actual label “bleisure travel” might not be top of mind with business travelers, they surely understand the concept of combining their business and leisure travel as one they’re increasingly embracing—and one with the potential to become a decidedly lucrative market segment for travel advisors.
The sales potential is, indeed, enticing. In a recent survey of business professionals age 25 to 35 years old, Hilton Hotels & Resorts found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said they have a desire to extend their work trips for leisure purposes.
And it’s not just millennials who are eager to expand their business travel experiences. In its 2018 Bleisure Trends Report, the travel management company Egencia noted that 68 percent of travelers mix business with pleasure between one and three times a year. That study also reports that a whopping 74 percent of North American business travelers are either planning or considering a bleisure trip in the next six months.
With those kinds of trending numbers, it’s no wonder savvy travel advisors are zooming in on the lucrative bleisure travel sales market and its phenomenal potential.
Employee Demand and Corporate Evolution
Corporate travel policies often play a big role in whether a business traveler extends his or her stay. The Egencia study, for example, notes that one in five global business travelers skip leisure additions to business trips due to the potential for negative perception by their supervisors.
The good news is that employers are becoming more open to bleisure travel, according to Dave Hershberger, president of Prestige Travel Leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio, who says that more companies are responding to the interests of their employees. “We have seen bleisure travel grow mainly because more corporations are not only allowing it, but are also embracing it,” he says. “Corporate support—to meet the employee demand—is what’s driving the growth rate.”
Indeed, employers are paying closer attention to what’s good for their employees, says Maurice Honor, Hertz vice president of travel distribution sales. “The rise in bleisure travel correlates with the fact that more and more people want to create a better work/life balance for themselves,” he says. “If business travelers have the opportunity to visit a new or interesting destination, they’re finding ways to maximize that opportunity for personal enjoyment as well, which can also include bringing family members on trips.”
To make it easier for employers grappling with how to manage bleisure travel, Hersberger’s agency even provides policy guidance. “We will work with our corporate accounts to provide…updated policies that spell out the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of how bleisure travel is acceptable to the corporation,” he says.
Understanding the needs of a client’s employer can go a long way toward helping that employer formulate an effective policy about bleisure travel, according to Leah Kirgis, manager of leisure travel at Cadence, a Virtuoso agency in La Jolla, California. “One of the things we’re often asking—and something that we find directly related to bleisure travel—is how can we help our clients create a more ‘human’ travel policy, rather than one strictly focused on cost savings?” she says.
To that end, Kirgis notes that employee wellbeing is a big selling point for companies to support bleisure travel. “In a recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey, 84 percent of North American business travelers say the quality of their business travel experience impacts their business results,” she says. “Additionally, 79 percent say their business travel experience even impacts their overall job satisfaction. If traveling for work is a part of a company’s overall growth strategy, you don’t want to hinder your team’s travel experiences and productivity by only focusing on the immediate bottom line.”
While Kirgis points out that bleisure travel has always existed in some capacity, with or without the actual name, “The broad expansion of social media has really created a FOMO culture—fear of missing out on an experience,” she explains. “That’s what’s really driving the current growth. There are so many great and unique things to experience in unexpected places. The exposure of, and visibility into, these unexpected places through the use of social media now makes them feel more accessible—and therefore that much more enticing to business travelers.”
Indeed, the personal appeal of a business destination plays a large role in whether travelers decide to extend their stay—which means the places where they opt to extend and enjoy leisure time after work can vary widely.
“The key destinations I’ve noticed my travelers extending in are New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, anywhere in Europe, Western Canada, California and Florida,” says Barbara J. Windett, founder of Excellent Travel Services, an independent affiliate of Travel Experts, a Virtuoso agency in Middletown, Delaware. “So much depends on the travelers’ interests, how long they can extend, if they can have someone join them.”
Overall, Windett says, “I find travelers like to have experiences that will give them memories of a lifetime, in the event they don’t have the opportunity to return. All destinations have something to offer. The key is to listen to what your client is looking for, what interests them and search out and suggest your ideas, making it a more attractive notion that it is doable.”
Kirgis agrees that a successful bleisure experience can take place just about anywhere. “If there’s even one cool thing to do, any destination can work,” she says. “That’s the great thing about bleisure. Having to travel to a place for business means you’re already there to experience the destination, so it really just becomes ‘What else can I do here?’”
Increasing Bleisure Sales
The flexible lifestyles, social media presence and immersive preferences of the millennial generation are often credited with pushing the demand for bleisure travel. But they’re far from the only ones extending business trips.
For Kirgis, the clients most likely to inject bleisure into their trip are at both ends of the spectrum. “Often times we find it’s either younger millennials or the opposite—those older couples who are easily able to stay an extra night or two to enjoy the area on their own,” she says.
And Windett finds the field is wide open. “Any and all travelers with a spirit for exploration and adventure are candidates for bleisure travel,” she says.
Windett and Kirgis both say that about 50 percent of their bleisure travel clients bring up the idea themselves. For those who don’t, Honor of Hertz recommends travel advisors take a proactive to selling more bleisure travel. “We recommend that travel advisors ask their customers if their business trip will include time for leisure activities, and assist them with booking any activities or accommodations that will best suit their needs and interests,” he says.
In fact, that’s just the approach Windett takes. “I almost always ask business travel clients if they plan on extending for some R&R or visiting a ‘must-see’ based upon what I know about a destination, which might pique their interest,” she says.
She also opens the conversation to adding a leisure component in a nearby destination.
“Depending on proximity or flight routing to other destinations, I often suggest a stopover, such as a weekend in Hong Kong, Tokyo or London for example,” she says.
Honor also emphasizes focusing on the value that a travel advisor brings as an expert who can strategically plan the leisure component. “When travel advisors know the terms of their customers’ corporate agreements, they can advise their clients if the rate/coverage of the corporate agreement can be extended for the leisure portion of the trip, which clients are unlikely to know or understand themselves,” he says.
Even if a client is not interested in turning one particular business trip into a bleisure trip, opening up the conversation sets the scene for future travel. “What does it hurt to ask and at least put the idea out for possibilities?,” says Windett. “If they can’t consider extending their current trip, at least they know I’m interested in helping them make travel memories in the future too.”