Opinion: Navigating the bleisure landscape

Todd Handcock

Investment in business travel continues to increase with organizations globally devoting significant budgets on it each year.

Globally, organisations devote significant sums to it every year – over US$1.3 trillion in 2017 in fact. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts this figure will grow in the coming years thanks to an improving economic landscape worldwide and the increasingly diverse demographic taking to the skies on behalf of their company. While more of the workforce may be on the move, there is another key factor showing signs of transforming the business travel landscape – Bleisure.

Why bleisure?

The trend of combining business trips with a holiday is becoming an increasingly common practice, with many travel sites reporting a hike in these types of bookings in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this growing trend.

Due to increased competition in the market, airline fares have become more accessible for the average Australian, meaning they can now travel overseas more often. Cheaper fares also make it much easier for business travellers to take a companion with them on trips – someone to spend leisure time with in between meetings. And for those with the travel bug who want to save on air fares – tacking on a few extra days post-business engagement is a more cost-effective way of booking a holiday.

There are benefits for companies too. It can often be expensive to pay for employees to travel back on peak days or at peak times after their meetings. Allowing them to add some leisure days to the trip could lower the cost of return travel, reducing the hit on company coffers.

The culture of experience

But the reasons for a boom in bleisure run deeper and provide real opportunities for companies looking to capitalise on this new corner of the market. A recent Priority Pass research, carried out by YouGov, found that globally we place huge value on the Currency of Experience.

Millennials and Gen X-ers are famously fond of experience over material goods, and their growing presence on the business travel scene may contribute to a penchant for bleisure rather than a simple corporate trip. But it appears they’re not alone.

In a Global Barometer of the activities we value the most, it was experiences like holidays, going out for meals and trips to the cinema that topped the table, according to the research. In fact, when asked what they most enjoyed doing, more than half of Australians said it was exploring other cultures abroad – the most popular answer by far. Conversely, just two per cent of people said buying luxury items was their favourite activity.

This sentiment was broadly the same regardless of gender, geography or age, demonstrating the worldwide appetite for ‘doing’ rather than ‘owning’. Perhaps the rise of bleisure breaks reflects this demand. If the modern business traveller is starting to better represent the global consumer base, it stands to reason that they will correspondingly seek opportunities to combine corporate excursions with leisure experiences that can be shared with friends, family and social networks.

According to the Next Big Thing consumer futurist, Will Higham, the desire to reduce carbon footprints could also have an impact in the future. It will make people more likely to bookend business travel with personal, and even family, holiday time. He also predicts the growth of the ‘Health Club Class’ – wellness-focused business travellers with a desire to maintain personal health. He suggests these travellers will want to ensure that the whole travel experience is healthy – from the calories in the food they eat to the air quality of hotel rooms.

Full steam ahead for the future

Bleisure has a significant opportunity to take hold and flourish in Australia. Business travellers want choice in how they spend their time pre-flight, whether that is firing off last-minute emails in a tranquil luxury lounge or indulging in flight-side massages. And they are willing to pay for it.

The research shows Australians travelling overseas for business equated to a low five per cent, however they spent an average of US$1,410 during their trip – almost as much as during solo trips abroad for pleasure (US$1,422). If experience is king, these figures could be representative of bleisure expenses – dining out, investing in one-off experiences or exploring the cultural highlights of their destination.

Beyond the consumer wallet, brands need to consider business traveller spending and adapt products and services for both audiences. Whether it is offering experiences tailored to the business traveller or diversifying their core offering to cater to the experience market, businesses that embrace this growing trend will encourage higher spending and secure greater customer loyalty.

Todd Handcock is the APAC president of Collinson.