Since bleisure travel became a buzzword in the hospitality space, industry professionals have debated whether or not it is a real phenomenon or just a concept that fits preconceived notions about modern professionals.
Bleisure, a portmanteau of “business” and “leisure” is generally defined as a business trip that is extended with leisure time. This does not include business trips where travelers take time to explore the destination after their work is done for the day, as a Saturday night stay is critical to the definition of bleisure that most researchers use.
Initially, there was some justified skepticism about the relevance of this supposed trend. In 2016, travel management group CWT found that the bleisure rate was stagnant at 7% between 2011 and 2016 — meaning only 7% of all business trips included a Saturday night stay. This lack of growth had industry experts question whether bleisure was a legitimate trend, especially since the term “bleisure” had been around for several years at that point.
However, studies over the last few years suggest that bleisure travel’s popularity has begun to rise significantly. Recent research, like a 2017 SAP Concur study, has indicated that the bleisure trend is now very real. The study found that 20% more bleisure trips occurred in 2017 than in 2016, while an Expedia-commissioned report found that the popularity of bleisure travel continued to rise through 2018.
Millennials Leading the Way
Since millennials are now the most frequent business travelers, the bleisure trend has mostly been tied to this generation. Millennials are no strangers to being named the cause of trends that challenge traditional assumptions about business, and many members of this generation claim that better work-life balance is a top priority. This makes it not so surprising that millennial business travelers would want to take some time for themselves if they are already in a new destination.
The supposed benefits of this kind of travel are significant enough to convince skeptics. For employers, bleisure travel can be advertised as a benefit that comes at no extra cost to the company. Millennials already generally view business travel as a perk, so advertising bleisure opportunities is a logical strategy. For employees, a National Car Rental survey shows that bleisure travelers are more satisfied with their quality of life and their work-life balance. These travelers are also more likely to follow a healthy diet and exercise and say they feel more focused on their work when trips include a leisure element.
There are many factors that influence a traveler’s decision to extend a business trip with leisure time, with number one being the destination. When considering the destination, distance plays a major role, as the closer the travel destination is to home, the lower the bleisure travel rate. A 2016 study by CWT found that international business trips from London to San Francisco were the most likely to be bleisure trips. The reasoning behind this is perfectly logical, as the closer the destination, the easier and more affordable it is for travelers to visit some other time.
For US domestic travel, Phoenix, Boston, Orlando, and Houston have joined business hubs New York and Chicago as some of the top bleisure destinations. Other than location, the most relevant deciding factors are proximity to the weekend, additional costs involved, and what activities are available in the city they are visiting.
What Hotels Need to Know About Bleisure
Expedia found that 60% of all business trips are lengthened with leisure days. The study also concluded that the trend not just common in the United States and Europe, but in China and India as well. Great Hotels of The World has found that the number of business travelers who would like to go on a bleisure trip is as large as 75%, proving that the demand for this kind of travel experience is too high to ignore. Two-thirds of these bleisure-curious travelers expressed interest in staying at the same hotel they stayed at for their business trip, presenting an opportunity for hoteliers to market extended leisure stays to businesses.
Additionally, many travelers do not make all their arrangements ahead of time, which creates another chance for hotels to market experiences in-stay. From offering tours and excursions to integrating aspects of the destination’s culture into the hotel, there is a growing demand for experience-oriented travel, particularly when a traveler’s time in that destination is limited.
By making it easy for business travelers to access the best the destination has to offer, hotels are sending a message that they prioritize guest experience, and understand what guests are looking for on their trip. For many convention hotels and properties with lots of meeting rooms, the opportunity to embrace bleisure travel has been too big to pass up. By promoting their amenities and providing travel guides, business-focused hotels are making it easier for travelers to get the most out of their experience.
While travelers staying at hotels may not want to switch accommodations when the business portion is done, it also worth noting that many bleisure travelers choose alternative lodging for their entire trip. Unsurprisingly, young professionals are the biggest supporters of this trend, as most millennials are willing to choose “shared accommodations” like Airbnb when it comes to business travel. Reasons for this vary from the desire to feel at home, and the practicality of staying with someone who knows the area.
Since Airbnb formally entered the business travel space in 2014, the brand has been growing in popularity. Airbnb for Work lets companies browse properties that are ready for business travelers, with amenities like dependable WiFi and comfortable workspaces.
However, it is difficult to say which form of lodging will win-out in the long run. While there are definite perks to shared accommodations, most travelers still prefer hotels because of the consistency. Whether or not Airbnb overtakes hotels as the dominant form of lodging for business trips, it’s clear that hotels now have the chance to capitalize on the rising popularity of bleisure travel and can strengthen their brand by doing so.