BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
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Virtual Event - 9 June 2021
Thursday 9th September, JW Marriott Grosvenor House
There’s business travel, and then there’s travel. Nick Easen reports on the trend that provides the overworked road warrior with the best of both worlds
YOU MAY OR MAY NOT like the concept – and probably don’t like the word – but ‘bleisure’ is here to stay.
Both word and concept are a blurring of ‘business’ and ‘leisure’ (some call it ‘bizcation’). In our time-pressed existences it is not unusual for work lives to summarily bleed into social ones, and vice versa – helped along by being constantly connected via smart devices. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see bleisure travel on the rise – though perhaps tempered by financial and policy constraints.
This is how it works: if you’re sent on a two-day business trip, you take time off at the end and tag on a few days of rest and relaxation. You might invite your partner to come along, too – if you’ve been booked in to a double room, why not make the most of it and pay extra only for the air fare, or for extending the hotel stay? Given the current state of the British economy, executives are being asked to do more and take less time off. This phase in the economic cycle could be ripe for bizcations.
Yet there is little research in this area, as it is neither business travel nor leisure. It’s hard to define, and there’s no formal sector in the UK. Some in the industry claim it is static or even declining, while others say it is in rude health. “Although expenditure was initially reined in during the downturn, we have seen year-on-year growth since 2010,” says Julian Munsey, head of strategic business development at Hillgate Travel. “Although demand is not great, where it’s permitted by the corporation we have seen a small increase in the number of extended stays.”
In the post-recession era, higher flight and holiday costs would imply that it makes sense to extend a business trip. “It’s a great way to minimise your personal short break budget,” says LeRoy Sheppard, UK sales director at Maritim Hotels. “This is about ensuring the effective use of your time and maximising your personal ROI [return on investment].”
A survey of 1,000 business travellers last year by Jurys Inn showed 35 per cent see an overnight business trip as a break from the office routine, with 19 per cent looking forward to exploring a new city – which implies taking time out to have a bizcation-type experience.
In the US, where the working population gets fewer holidays compared to the Brits – a week or two versus our four weeks – it’s not surprising that Americans are keen to tag on a few days holiday. For instance, 72 per cent of business travellers surveyed in the US said that they take extended executive trips that have a leisure component, according to an Orbitz trend report last year, which polled over 600 business travellers, and that 81 per cent planned to. In addition, 43 per cent had a significant other accompany them on a business trip.
MIXING IT UP
This is where frequent flyer and hotel point schemes come into their own. If a traveller’s company is aligned to a brand then the executive will do all that is possible to stay at, for example, a Hilton hotel or fly British Airways so they can get personal points. “Guests who have been staying for a long time or are regulars will generally be offered favourable rates,” says Joanna Fisher, marketing director at serviced apartment operator Ascott.
Points do mean prizes. Executives can easily fly significant others on air miles or have an extended hotel stay. “We also see people decide to have a bleisure break relatively near to the date of travel – it is not planned a long time in advance in many cases,” says Maritim’s Sheppard.
A TRICKY QUESTIONBizcations are not positively encouraged as a formal policy. Years of ratcheting up compliance, talking up travel policies and scrutinising budgets means that there is little scope for a few sly days on a beach using a corporate credit card.
There are challenges for TMCs as they have to justify all arrangements within agreed guidelines and ensure all reservations are policy compliant. Few TMCs wanted to contribute to this article for that reason – the fact is there is little room for the bizcation in the vocabulary of managed travel these days. “This is an informal or discretionary thing that companies do not want written into formal policy,” explains Adam Knights, group sales director at ATPI.
For many buyers, business is business and they are keen to show that the leisure part of any stay is separate to the corporate trip, and funded separately, too. Larger corporations are also sensitive to the implications of being involved in bleisure. “The potential for a taxable benefit to be incurred, and for other staff to believe personal travel was being undertaken at the company’s expense, has made this an unnecessary challenge many want to avoid,” explains Paul Gardner, owner/director of Amity Travel. Amity is ranked 45th in Buying Business Travel’s annual 50 Leading TMCs, and lists leisure travel among its services offered.
“Things are different if they are travelling as part of an incentive reward for hitting a performance target,” adds De Vere Hotels commercial marketing director Calum Russell. “Also, rates can sometimes be higher for leisure stays as business trips are usually based on a bulk negotiated rates.”
CUTTING BOTH WAYSHowever, there are occasions when extending a trip can be beneficial to the company.
For example, many economy class fares to the US have restrictions if booked at the last minute. “But by extending to Saturday night, the fare can often be reduced by 50 per cent – this far outweighs the additional hotel costs,” says Gardner.
There are also informal incentives. One travel buyer says: “There is sometimes the scenario where the company says: ‘We know you have worked extremely hard for the last week – why doesn’t your wife fly out at the end of your trip and we will pick up the hotel bill?’ But these situations are always discretionary.”
DIFFERING NEEDSIt’s certainly a difficult market to nail down – each customer’s needs are different and are in many ways opportunistic, based on how leisure time can be fitted around business meetings. “Bizcations are unique for each customer, so it can be a challenge to offer the right package,” explains Maritim’s Sheppard.
Many deals for partners and family are purchased at arm’s length to the corporate buying, so are beyond analysis. Yet some travel management companies have VIP services that cater for all the needs of their business clients, blurring business and leisure, whether it be chartering a yacht in Monaco or organising tickets to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, while others have specific leisure departments that deal with this type of travel, albeit passed on from their business travel division.
For example, Travel without Boundaries is a programme created for Advantage TMCs to manage the holiday market for clients alongside corporate travel bookings. Advantage is a founder member of the Worldwide Independent Travel Network (WIN), a global travel agency partnership with more than 6,000 outlets around the world. WIN head of supplier relations Julie Janzen says: “We’ve negotiated leisure benefits for executives wanting to extend their stay across key cities and it is all bookable through the GDS on a unique rate code.”
Certainly, booking a bleisure break seamlessly alongside that conference in Munich or a client meeting in Hong Kong is symptomatic of the modern age, and Travel without Boundaries reflects this model.
If everything else is integrated in a road warrior’s life, from their smartphone and work diaries to their Skype chats with clients, it makes sense for their bizcation to be part of this arrangement, too.
As long as everyone’s aware that there’s a clear divide between work and pleasure in terms of who pays, who arranges it and how time is accounted for, then the committed business traveller should be able to take that well-earned break – and why not?
THE TMC’S VIEW
Adam Knights, group sales director for ATPI
What’s happening with bizcations?Many companies rely on employees to be available 24/7, therefore there is a growing trend towards informal time in lieu, or family support. This often results in us being asked to change a hotel in, say, Dubai, to one of the beach properties for the weekend if a partner or family are joining.
Who takes them and when?Increasingly, people are working around half-term holidays with the family, so that an executive can do a week overseas while the family fly in at the beginning or end. The key thing customers have in common is that they are all frequent travellers and tend to be older.
What challenges do you face? Some senior travellers ask our teams to book bleisure, but normally this goes through our separate leisure group. Clients don’t want agents distracted and business services to falter. However, there are always exceptions and, if the PA to the chief executive asks one of our agents to book extra flights for the family, we would normally do this. There are rarely compliance issues as a client’s personal card is used; however, we always take the lead from our client and discreetly check with our main contact whether this is acceptable.
THE TRAVELLER’S VIEW
A leading global consumer goods company senior manager
Do you see bizcations as a benefit? It is a huge benefit, but it is harder to take longer breaks because of work pressures these days. I’ve taken a bizcation a number of times, and it’s allowed me to visit the Taj Mahal and extend to a weekend safari in Kenya.
What kind of trips do you mix up?It’s actually about grabbing opportunities and the destination – I’ve done a week-long training course in Budapest and had my partner join me on the Friday for a long weekend; similarly I’ve had my partner join an Indian business trip for a week extension.
Are you doing more of it now?I want to try and spend as little time as possible in airports and in transit, so it makes sense to add a break on to an executive trip.
Are there compliance or other issues? It is critical to separate all costs of a personal nature. I think it’s also important to let line management know in advance any intention to add a personal side trip to a business trip. I tend to take these few days at the beginning of a trip so the company benefits as well – I get over the jetlag in my own time and am ready to perform 100 per cent.