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The Rise of the Bleisure Event Attendee

By EventMB Studio Team

Are you seeing more extended stays after your events? If so, you may be experiencing a slow developing trend – the rise of the bleisure traveler. What will that mean for your event? Here are a few things you should know and what you can do to encourage bleisure and benefit your attendees and your events.

For time-starved employees and those who are budget-focused, bleisure trips are the perfect solution. They combine business and leisure travel. This trend can be an ideal way to sell tickets or entice people to attend your meeting. But bleisure isn’t just a cost-savings trend with a clever title. It has a growing impact on the event and meeting industry. Here’s what you can expect.

According to Statista, if global business travel trends continue, it’s predicted that by 2020 business travel will hit a whopping $1.6 trillion spent. Executives and business people who travel extensively are adopting the approach that flying in and flying out does not leave them at their best. They are shunning the “all work and no play” mentality of the ‘90s and early 2000s. Instead, they are choosing to build in a few extra days and possibly bring a travel companion along too.

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The Rise of the Bleisure Event Attendee

Bleisure Travel Trends

In 2016, over 37% of business travelers added leisure travel time to their stays and that number is expected to increase, albeit steadily among all generational groups outside of those under 35. (An Expedia study places the number of business trips with leisure add-ons closer to 43%.) The younger generation is combining business and leisure at a much higher rate. Nearly half of younger travelers took a bleisure trip in the past year, as did 60% of international travelers.

The most common amount of time to add to the business trip is two days. When travelers combine business and leisure, that often means:

  • Extra days at, or near, your meeting or event location.
  • A travel companion (more than 54% reported this).
  • Using frequent flyer or loyalty programs to defray the cost of the second traveler.
  • Research and apps to make the most of shortened time frames for travel, like seeing Manhattan in two days.
  • Relying on review sites for information.
  • Desire for cultural experience or enrichment.

90% of bleisure travelers only add a day onto their travel for exploration, dining, or culture being their main goals. On the other hand, the most common reason people don’t add a component of leisure to their business travel is a self-reported lack of time.

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What Bleisure Travel Will Mean for Your Event

As mentioned earlier, bleisure travel is steadily growing but what does that mean for events?

  1. Attendees will give even more significance to your choice of location. It’s not only a question of wanting to go to your event but wanting to go to where you’re hosting it as well.
  2.  

  3. Schedules must be appealing. Have a short end day? Don’t be surprised if bleisure travelers leave early to make the most of their time. As a planner, you will either need to accommodate that or make sure that you give them reason to stay through excellent programming on the last day or a scheduled must-attend event that no one wants to miss. If you do the latter, you may want to consider including travel partners on it.
  4.  

  5. Room blocks may lose their interest. While staying central to the action is usually the most convenient option, if bleisure travelers are bringing guests, we may see them make additional choices based on their traveling partner’s needs. For instance, in the past, a hotel airport may have made a good venue option for business travelers who planned on coming in for the meeting and then flying out the same or next day. However, if they’re traveling with someone who is looking for something to do while they are in meetings, a place that is more centrally located to the city action or in a walkable area, might be their preference.
  6.  

  7. All work and no play will fade away as more of the attendees under 36 look to experience the host city. You will need to find ways to incorporate exploration or you’ll lose younger attendees.
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  9. Extended group rates might be in order. In the past, the hotel block was negotiated for a day before and a day after. It now may be a necessary perk to offer additional savings to those who want to prolong their stay, especially at in-demand locations like amusement park resorts and others with additional benefits to staying there, like free shuttle service (to the parks). This negotiating practice could also be advantageous to you as a planner as part of a frequent stay promotion or loyalty program. It may also keep hotels full longer, assuming bleisure attendees don’t go the way of #3 above.
  10.  

  11. Partnering with other outfitters to offer a total experience. This may mean working discounts on spa services, tours, cultural experiences, discounted “afternoon” tickets for activities (Universal Resorts offers this option to planners with meetings that end early in the day) and more.
  12.  

  13. Networking can and will occur prior to the event and possibly outside of your influence. If people arrive early or stay late, you can expect some of them will use that opportunity to stay connected with others. Ultimately, those connections will benefit your event as the people you meet are as much a draw as the content.

What Impacts Bleisure Travel?

While the same concerns that govern leisure travel also govern bleisure travel, there are some differences. Security issues may, for instance, concern leisure travelers. With bleisure, if their company insists they travel, they likely won’t cancel a trip over security issues but it may affect the duration of their stay or what they do there.

The difficulty with bleisure travel is often corporate expense accounts and travel policies. Because most of this additional travel is not done on the company dime, many times these travelers turn to third-party sites to find accommodations or experiences. Thus they “step outside” of the traditional booking venues preferred by their companies or negotiated rates of the business event.

According to the Exploring the Generational Divide in Business Travel from American Express and the  Global Business Travel Association, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers tend to stay at the same hotel for business and leisure portions of their trips, while those under 35 and frequent travelers look for other options based on location, price, and convenience.

But accommodations aren’t the only differences between the generations. Baby Boomers do not tend to add additional days for bleisure, while those under 35 do. Nearly half of this group has traveled for business and leisure. In a study done by Expedia Media Solutions of over 8,500 travelers, the numbers were slightly higher. 62% of those under 30 had extended their business trip, while only 51% between 31 and 45 had. Only 37% of those above 45 had ever done it. Even those who do not officially add additional time for vacation, do try and experience some of what the city has to offer.

Additionally, according to the MMGY Global survey on American travelers, 81% of those surveyed under 35 equated business travel with happiness and job satisfaction.

Will these trends of the younger generation making the most of bleisure travel continue or is it simply because they have the most time and fewer encumbrances that allows them to extend stays? We’ll have to continue to watch these numbers in order to say definitively.

How Can You Make Your Event More Conducive to Bleisure Travelers?

First, you needn’t do anything to encourage people to blend their personal and professional travel, they’re doing it on their own. However, there are things you can do that can help you be a better fit for this type of traveling and thus encourage people who are already in the mindset to do it, to experience it with you. This may mean they choose to attend your event or meeting over someone else’s.

  • 83% of business travelers use their free time to explore the city. Make it easy for them through concierge services and other useful content provided ahead of time so that if unexpected time opens up, they can take advantage of it.
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  • 96% of bleisure travelers believe they gain cultural knowledge when they mix business and pleasure. Helping to facilitate that exchange could benefit corporate interactions and instill a deeper respect for the cultures (and potentially, coworkers) at the table.
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  • Stress work/life balance. Many corporate executives are recognizing this trend for its ability to “market” work/life balance to its employees. If you’re in corporate travel, you may see value in the same idea. Bleisure opportunities raise morale, which hopefully means greater loyalty and less turnover.
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  • Target that market. Take a tip from the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau and begin targeting the business travel market. They recently published a guide just for the business traveler. The Pullman Hotels and Resorts launched a new marketing campaign entitled, “Work hard, play hard”, designed to attract more bleisure travelers for meetings and extended stays.
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  • Offer pre- and post- event activities or planning assistance.
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  • Incorporate breaks that make the most of the area. For instance, the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach, California offers coffee break service at the beach. Why sit in a stuffy conference room for your break? Not everyone has the time to tack on a day or two on top of a business trip for vacation but offering mini experiences during your event will help business travelers feel a little more like bleisure travelers.
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  • Plan family activities or create a planner for them as part of your welcome materials.
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  • Ensure traveling companions have access to the resort amenities and activities even when their friend is involved in the event or training and cannot partake.
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  • Help event attendees reconnect with their loved ones when meetings adjourn by knowing where they are in their scheduled agenda or tour.
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  • Give attendees a design experience. If you’re selecting a meeting space for your event, consider something that feels as much like a vacation as it does business. Kimpton’s Hotel Van Zandt in Austin, Texas offers some very memorable meeting rooms, ones that feel more like attending a chic party than a boring meeting. Some of them feel like you’re in an older mentor’s personal library and you’re about to be given the secrets of the ages and that sort of unexpected moment fits the city beautifully.
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  • Give attendees a taste of the city by offering a signature event they won’t soon forget. If they don’t have time to visit the area on their own, bring it to them through entertainment, food, or speakers. Hotel Van Zandt has a live music venue, which allows visitors to experience the Austin music scene even if they can’t leave the hotel.
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  • Provide more flights of fancy opportunities. Disney and other theme park properties do this well. They understand their guests want to be transported somewhere else. They want the fantasy vacation to continue as the guest leaves the park and heads back to their resort. Bleisure-focused resorts will aim to capture some of the “magic” of vacation and serve it up over and over, whether through in-room entertainment or the ideas mentioned above.

One final thing to note, many employees believe that the addition of personal travel days on a business trip makes the professional part more rewarding. For corporate event planners, this may be the kind of engagement factor and enticement you’ve been looking for.

In Conclusion

We can expect that these bleisure trends will increase for several reasons over the next few years. As travel costs rise, budget-minded people will look for ways to attain their travel goals with a lower price tag; nearly a quarter of those who said they haven’t combined business and pleasure travel said they’d like to, and the stress of travel and being away from home is alleviated when a traveling companion joins the business person. An extra break also helps them feel more refreshed and ready for the business at hand, a very beneficial perk for all involved.

Additional Information About Bleisure Travel

10 Event Trends for 2018 [Free Report] 5 Reasons Eventprofs Want a Global Hotel Experience
Event Planning in the Hotel of the Future
25 Corporate Event Ideas to Steal
16 Lounge Ideas for Your Next Event

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EventMB Studio Team
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