Changing Business Travel For The Better

Think about today’s most renowned offices. Long gone are the days of the cubicle, replaced with ping-pong tables, video games, and kitchens filled with snacks (and sometimes beer!). Companies have overhauled their working spaces to not just cater to the younger generation, but to also create a more welcoming environment in an attempt to balance the work-life scale. It only seems appropriate then that today’s employees are extending this environment beyond the walls of the office and into the world of corporate travel.

Personal travel booking habits have begun spilling over into the workplace and corporations are adjusting to keep their employees satisfied. The rise in Airbnb and Uber bookings in expense reports has increased tremendously, with the former growing by a factor of 27, according to Fortune Magazine. By allowing employees to book their travel in accordance with their personal preferences, as opposed to corporate mandates, the employees feel a sense of freedom and control that helps build trust between themselves and the company, which in turn, develops more satisfied employees. It should come as no surprise then, that as corporate booking habits continue to change, the overall shape of the business trip continues to change too.

The term “bleisure” has been thrown around as a way to describe business travelers who add an extra few days to their trip to create a mini-vacation. And while the term itself is horrible, the idea is great. By adding an additional day or two on to their business trip, employees can adjust to their surroundings, recover from the travel experience, and discover a bit of the local culture. Per Travel Weekly, “The Global Business Travel Alliance’s 2015 Business Traveler Sentiment Index found that 67% of business travelers said it was important to be able to extend business trips with leisure add-ons, while 36% of those surveyed had done so within the previous three months.” Not only is the option becoming important, it is becoming essential as a workplace differentiator.

Put yourself in the shoes of these business travelers. You’re going through all of the hard work and inconveniences of traveling, but instead of getting there and enjoying a new city, you just have to go to work- except you don’t know how to get to the office and you’ve never met any of your co-workers. Not ideal. And while transportation, lodging, and dining have long been staples of the business travel expense report, the business trip is still stuck in the rigidity of scheduling, meetings, and conferences.

Travelers are beginning to reframe the business trip discussion as less of an obligation and more as an opportunity. Bleisure travelers (can we please think of a different name?!) see these trips as a means of discovering a new city and ticking travel destinations off their bucket lists. If they have to go through the hassle to get there, they might as well enjoy it, especially when they’re unsure of when they’ll have the opportunity to visit again. And so a conference on a Thursday transforms into a weekend getaway with their significant other, a chance to try out that restaurant they saw on the Travel Channel, or any number of different experiences. A BridgeStreet Global Hospitality report BridgeStreet Global Hospitality Report shows the top three bleisure activities include sightseeing, dining, and local cultural experiences. Business travelers are looking for ways to immerse themselves in the uniqueness of each new city as the concurrent trend of ‘visiting like a local’ weighs heavily into decision making.

As leisure trip planning and business trip planning continue to overlap, travelers need options for not only transportation and lodging, but tours and activities as well. And the typical tour is no longer good enough as the Travel Market Report states that according to a recent Expedia survey, 76% of baby boomers rate experiencing authentic local culture as “the most important” aspect of their decision making, while 62% of Generation X consumers rate local culture most important. For too long, the tours and activities space has been rigid in setting schedules in advance and showing off the typical attractions. In today’s reality, situations change and travel planning, both in the business and leisure worlds, hardly ever goes exactly as planned. As personal planning priorities continue to shift towards authentic experiences, so too will those of the business traveler.

The effects have already been felt throughout the travel industry. How important is it to meet the needs of these converging trends? Well, consider that 76% of travelers in a recent Phocuswright study booked a tour or excursion activity while already ‘in-destination’. Combine that with 80% of people booking a cultural activity ‘in-destination’, and travel’s biggest players start to pay attention. Household names like TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Airbnb have all introduced initiatives to address instant and last-minute bookings while new startups such as Headout, Peek, and Zeeno are looking to disrupt the entire travel activity space. As these travel companies give more and more activity suppliers access to updated booking solutions, travelers will begin to not only be able to book last minute, but they will have more of a selection to find the activities that suit their needs.

So why turn a business trip into a leisure one? The answer seems pretty obvious- it makes for happier employees. The BridgeStreet Report suggests that employees are actually more engaged during the business aspects of the trip as they are more relaxed and focused on the task at hand, including a staggering 78% of respondents who agreed that adding leisure days to business travel adds value to their work assignments. Employees that have the opportunity to bring along their family or to experience a new city and culture, achieve a greater work-life balance. Adding a day or two onto the front or back end of a trip allows employees to settle in to their environment, get outside the hotel, and simply enjoy their experience more. Just as the office has transitioned into a place with the comforts and enjoyments of private life, so too should the business trip. The Economist summed up the situation perfectly: “If you do tack on an extra day or two, please observe just one rule: don’t call it ‘bleisure’.”

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