Bleisure travel is a bit like voluntourism was a couple of decades ago … we sort of know what it means, but there is a lot more to it than two obvious words married together. Let’s unpack this concept that links business + leisure, and investigate how it is influencing a growing segment of the travel industry today.
At first glance, “bleisure” is a term used to define professionals who are shunning the all-work-and-no-pleasure grind of business trips by blending in some vacation time. Various studies have shown that such travelers are still cautious about how much time they take – usually amounting to a couple days at the beginning or end of their conference – but it is such a logical prospect that even the companies and organizations planning business events are beginning to build some creative leisure time into their meeting itineraries.
In the past, North American companies have been particularly resistant to encouraging vacation time in general, not to mention when an employee has been sent half way around the world on the company’s dime. When the meeting is over, it’s time to get back to the office, never mind the employee’s jet lag, interrupted healthy body rhythms and lurking resentment of being sent to some of the most attractive destinations in the world only to glimpse them from the window of a taxi shuttling between the airport and meeting venue. So goes the philosophy … let’s keep business travel strictly professional!
However, as the lyrics in Bob Dylan’s song claim: “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” In a 2015 trend report by travel website Skift, 60% of respondents said they have taken bleisure trips, usually adding two vacation days to work-related travel, and the same percentage said they are more likely to take bleisure trips now than five years earlier. In some studies, business travelers report that they don’t take any regular vacations at all, only bleisure breaks made up of vacation days.
Europeans and Australians, too, have long recognized the productivity value of leisure time and generous vacations. In fact, business trips are no vacation at all unless there is some time off, the cost of which most business travelers do cover themselves. However, progressive companies are starting to integrate this concept into corporate policy. Some companies are willing to book their employees’ additional days off right into the itinerary or even book a return air flight for a partner or friend to travel (at their own expense) to the meeting venue in order to share the hotel room at no charge.
It is not surprising that certain locations are as equally popular for leisure travel as they are for large-scale conferences. Predictably, cosmopolitan cities like Paris and London, along with less familiar European jewels like Budapest, offer a range of facilities and alluring sites to encourage business travelers to linger awhile. America’s domestic business travel is also becoming bleisure-conscious in major centers from New York to San Francisco and Las Vegas, while in Canada both Montréal and Vancouver are making measurable efforts to understand and work with the bleisure market.
Montréal is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris, and an historic, multi-cultural destination with festivals and spectacular events throughout the year. Fifty-six percent of its population is fluent in English and French.
"More and more business travelers are adding a leisure component to their stays," says Michel Bourdon, Vice President of Sales and Convention Services at Tourisme Montréal. "A recent Expedia® study showed that almost half of all business trips are extended to include some kind of leisure activity. Our own research shows that about a third of business travelers to Montréal are joined by their partner before or after their business meeting. This is particularly true among Millennials,” he emphasizes. “So when we work with event professionals to plan their meetings, we make sure to propose original and unexpected pre- and post-programs that let their delegates experience real local flavor. We want them to have lots of great reasons to extend their stay."
An extensive December 2016 study from Expedia Media Solutions, the advertising sales division of Expedia, Inc., and Luth Research has identified recent booking habits for bleisure travelers. The breakdown of this research is revealing with 37 percent of respondents saying that the leisure portion equals the business portion in length. Trips for conferences or conventions are more likely to turn into bleisure trips (43 percent), and the majority of these are spent in the same city or area as the business trip (84 percent). More than 80 percent of bleisure travelers tend to stay at the hotel where they stayed on business.
In the Expedia research, destination is the leading factor (66 percent) in turning business travel into bleisure, followed by the additional costs required to extend the trip (59 percent) and how close the trip is to the weekend (51 percent). Eighty-six percent of respondents said they have attended a festival or cultural event during a bleisure trip, while 76 percent and 64 percent have attended a sporting event or concert, respectively.
Vancouver, British Columbia is another popular convention and conference destination around which planners have plenty of leisure activities to incorporate into meeting programs or to offer attendees in their time off. Recent examples have ranged from leisure group day trips to a neighboring destination for team leaders, to a 5 km run and yoga classes woven into the meeting schedule. Reflecting this destination’s status as a hub for some of tourism’s most perennially-popular choices, there is growing business traveler demand for longer pre/post leisure trips such as vacation packages to the ski mecca of Whistler, Alaska cruises, Rocky Mountaineer train tours or a stay in Victoria across the Georgia Strait.
Discussions abound as to whether bleisure travel is an emerging and newly-lucrative trend or simply a recognition (and labeling) of what has been happening for decades. In the 21st century, the sheer number of business-driven itineraries, the distances that must be traveled and the frequency of travel for many business men and women certainly cries out for a leisure component to be permitted and encouraged within the travel agenda wherever possible.
Travel can be a rewarding part of a great career as long as it is acknowledged for the extra personal and professional challenges it delivers. A healthy balance of business and leisure time mixes the best of both worlds.
 Expedia Media Solutions and Luth Research. “More than 40 Percent of Business Trips are Extended for Leisure Purposes.” advertising.expedia.com. Expedia Media Solutions, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 27 July 2017.