The pleasure of bleisure

More business travellers are extending their work trips for a bit of fun, and are expecting business events to provide opportunities for destination experiences.

It is not uncommon to hear about business travellers taking a couple of days after a working stint to rest and relax – where time and schedule permits – before flying back to reality.

The lines between business and leisure have been blurred years ago, with corporate travel managers and event planners believing that bleisure – a word the industry has coined for the act of turning a business trip into a pleasurable vacation – will continue to gain traction. This upward trajectory is buoyed by factors such as supportive superiors and companies, and the rise in experiential travel.

Buyers at IT&CM Asia 2019 believe that the bleisure trend is driven by the younger workforce, who take work-life balance seriously and are encouraged by the minimal extra expenditure needed for a pleasure extension since the airfare has already been paid for by the employer.

Seneshash Yitbarek, general manager, Ethiopia-based Business Plus Vacation, does it herself.

“When I travel for exhibitions and tradeshows, I take a few days off to explore the destination,” she said.

Doing so allows her to “connect with the locals”, who are a “good source of information” on what to do in the destination – all of which is knowledge she takes back to her clients.
“Compared to the past, business trips now must have (an element) of leisure, whether it is part of the event programme or a personal extension,” observed Cindy Lie, executive director of Indonesia-based Infinity Holiday.

While the thirst for bleisure is strongest among the younger generation of business event attendees, Lie noted that the trend is also catching on among the older business travellers.
Faten Elbeaini, owner of Lebanon-based Daily Tours, said the desire to combine business and pleasure was natural among her clients, as they had to “travel all this way from one country to another”. Her clients would often carve some time out to explore the event destination.

According to a report released in October 2019 by CWT, companies were mostly supportive of bleisure travel if employees paid for their personal expenses (76 per cent), especially in Asia-Pacific (79 per cent).

The study, created by CWT and conducted by Artemis Strategy Group between January 29 and February 9, 2019, found that respondents regarded the possibility of extending a business trip for pleasure as a job perk. The average number of times in the past 12 months that the respondents had extended their trip was 2.4. Travellers from the Americas took the lead with 2.7 times, followed by 2.4 in Europe, and 2.3 in Asia-Pacific. The average number of extended days – globally – was 4.3 days.

Punhan Gajarov, administrative services unit senior specialist (corporate travel manager), from Azercell Telecom in Azerbaijian, said: “For us, it’s a long way from anywhere, and we (the company) are happy for our staff to rest for a couple of days.”

Gajarov sees greater demand for leisure extensions when work assignments take his staff to South-east Asia, as air tickets cost more and it is a nine-hour flight to the region.
Peter Lombard, founder of US-based Globe Guides, finds higher bleisure occurrence among companies that are willing to “give their staff some fun time” and are “not particular about them coming back to work immediately”.

He often sees half the group staying on for a few days before or after the business event to experience the host destination.

When asked what do people favour doing during their leisure extensions, Lombard said: “It’s the new norm to do something that your peers have not done, whether it’s a cooking class, or trekking. Also, (bleisure travellers) don’t want to go to a popular temple and follow a flag; they want small group tours to a temple that’s one hour away and is peaceful and quiet, and be able to interact with the locals.”

The blurring of lines between business and pleasure is also impacting the way business events are conducted, with more planners looking at ways to inject fun into a solemn programme.

Lie noticed that her clients were increasingly requesting for fresh ideas to experience a destination. She recently organised a meeting and incentive programme in Bangkok for an Indonesian insurance company, which included a teambuilding activity with a local theme. Delegates got to visit a local market to buy ingredients to make som tam (green papaya salad); travelled by public transport such as the BTS; and learnt muay thai from a professional.

Similarly, Gajarov is seeing a greater push for business events with a local flavour, where the fun part of the event may be held in a different destination in the same country.
For instance, a C-suite meeting may take place in Bangkok while the teambuilding activity and recreation are conducted in Phuket.

“We try to ensure our teambuilding programmes are done outside of an enclosed venue. If we find ourselves in a wine-making country like Italy, Moldova or Spain, we let our staff visit a vineyard, pick grapes, and learn how to make and bottle wine,” he elaborated.

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