Not so long ago, "bleisure"—a term coined about a decade ago to describe the combining of business and leisure travel—was hot. Travel marketers everywhere were talking about the trend, and for good reason: Cheaper airfare, increasingly distributed workforces and an era of strong economic performance led to steady growth in business travel spending.
Bleisure used to be an easy way to "add on" to a trip, whether that was a hotel, flight, destination excursions, car rental or other elements involved in an extended stay.
A 2018 Expedia study found that more than 60% of business trips were extended for leisure purposes. But the concept of any travel largely ground to a halt in 2020 due to the pandemic, uncertainty of how the virus spreads and stay-at-home orders in the US and beyond.
Fast-forward to 2021 when the world is just starting to right itself. We’re beginning to see more and more planes take off, and across the globe people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Does this mean that bleisure will return, as well?
The answer is both yes and no. The appetite for mixing business and leisure travel is alive and well, but due to lingering changes caused by the pandemic, it’s starting to look a bit different. This article explores what travel marketers need to know about the changing trend and how they can best engage the new audience.
'Flexcations': Inverting the concept of 'bleisure'
"Bleisure" has traditionally referred to the extension of business travel into leisure travel. An example would be someone flying to Boston for a corporate retreat on a Thursday, and then spending the following week in the city with her partner for a vacation.
What industry leaders are predicting for the future of bleisure is an inverse of that traditional definition: Some call it "flexcation." With "flexcations," instead of travelers extending their stays in locations that are pre-determined by business needs, travelers now get to choose where they go to work remotely while vacationing. This might look like a young couple booking a trip to Seattle and choosing to spend one week working remotely there from a hotel or Airbnb, and one week entirely off.
Understanding today's traveler: Closing the industry's gap in customer knowledge
It’s the combination of an increase in flexible-working options and a decrease in in-person business trips that could lead to this new concept of business/leisure travel.
Company after company (Spotify, Twitter, Shopify and more) have recently announced they’re loosening the "work-in-office" approach of pre-pandemic professional life, likely due to the fact that remote work hasn’t seemed to hinder productivity levels. This is happening at the same time that CEOs have started to question the need for in-person business travel. Business Insider shared that business trips may largely become a thing of the past as company leaders continue to question what really necessitates a flight.
Not only is this new definition of bleisure plausible, but we’re already beginning to see it in action:
- Through Marriott’s "Work Anywhere" promotion, the hotel chain offers a reprieve for travelers looking to work in a clean, quiet environment. It also speaks to working families, offering on-site children’s activities. The Fairmont El San Juan Hotel is offering something similar with its "Bleisure in Style" package, which offers travelers an extended stay option.
- Bermuda introduced "Work from Bermuda," a certificate program that invites travelers to work remotely from a scenic destination.
- In November, CNN reported on eight vacation destinations that are "vying for remote workers"—one of which offers travelers the chance to transfer their home office to the "beautiful island" of Barbados for up to a year.
But it’s not just big getaways: Many are extending short-distance weekend trips into flexcation stays because it’s now become easier to work remotely.
Three tips to engage the new business/leisure traveler
Regardless of what we end up calling the new business/leisure travel model, your marketing strategy must appeal to the needs and behaviors of each individual traveler.
Following these three tips will help you engage all kinds of travelers more effectively.
1. Unify your messaging
Don’t let your messages become scattered across touchpoints. It’s crucial to unify your messaging across platforms and maintain a contextual understanding of the guest; otherwise, you run the risk of missing valuable opportunities to connect.
If you know someone is trying to get out of a cold Chicago winter and is browsing warmer destinations for a vacation, for example, use digital media to message them about extending their trip for a longer stay in which they can work and play. This digital media can promote things like quality access to in-room WiFi, which is of course the most important thing for the remote work traveler. Tourism boards as well should consider how they can promote their destinations as perfect "flexcation" options.
Continue that conversation by following up via email, and then send reminders of the travel offer within your loyalty app to extend the window of opportunity.
2. Prepare for in-trip marketing
In many cases with old and new bleisure models alike, there’s no upfront planning at all. For travelers who decide last minute to extend their stays (perhaps to soak in the sun a bit longer while cracking open their work laptop), their planning often occurs in real time and within the trip.
Communications can be served to travelers along the lines of: "Why not stay a little longer?" Sharing deals and opportunities that make the idea of an extended stay attractive can incentivize the traveler to stick around for another few days.
As well, keeping lines of communication open with your travelers will ensure you can pick up a conversation in the event that their trips are extended. Being able to return to those conversations gives you an opportunity to upsell travelers while they’re on their trips. All kinds of travel brands can benefit from effective in-trip marketing. But it’s especially valuable for DMOs that are looking to capitalize on business/leisure opportunities.
Take a deeper dive: Deliver personalized interactions at every stage of the traveler’s journey
3. Get personal
The final tip for engaging business/leisure travelers is to get personal with your marketing messages. Being able to personalize offers before, during and after a trip is key to getting travelers to trust your brand. And the more relevant your offers are, the more likely a traveler will be to book with you.
A national hotel chain that is able to identify someone who booked a two-week stay (part business, part leisure) is then able to market to them with messages like: "Wasn’t getting away great? It’s easy to do it again at one of our other locations." Clearly this individual is open to travel, so it’s likely they would be interested in heading somewhere else.
Personalization hinges on your ability to leverage the information you have today and properly aggregate information from ongoing touchpoints, like your loyalty program, to effectively communicate to those people in the future. To see this in action, learn how Preferred Hotels & Resorts built a reliable platform to enable loyalty program enhancements, personalized conversations with members and opportunities for future growth.
Engaging the modern traveler
It likely won’t be too long before we start to see some stable patterns emerge for travel in the new, post-pandemic world. And just like you, we’re curious to see what happens in the world of "bleisure" or "flexcation."
Whatever it’s called, your ability to engage business/leisure travelers comes down to your ability to connect consumer information across disparate data sources (digital media, paid advertising, email, loyalty and more) and how you can activate it for your marketing. Customer data is the fuel that will drive your success in today’s travel market, and the deeper your insights are, the more accurate you can make real-time marketing messages to engage these guests.
But, being able to understand those customer interactions will be much harder in a world without third-party identifiers (3PIDs). Our recent research found that 69% of travel marketers are concerned about their ability to target and personalize in a world without 3PIDs.
At Epsilon, our CORE ID was built on persistent, user-level identifiers that doesn’t rely on third-party cookies, so we’re prepared for the transition. As many others in the adtech industry are scrambling to build something not based on third-party cookies, we don’t expect to see a significant loss in reach once the changes are implemented in 2022.
Learn more about how marketers are preparing for the loss of identifiers in our recent research: Preparing for a world without third-party identifiers.