“Business or pleasure?” A question once heard in every airport terminal and hotel lobby may now be obsolete. As mask mandates lift and other COVID restrictions loosen, many are eager to get back on the road and in the air, with experts predicting air travel to reach pre-pandemic levels as soon as 2023. But even as we inch closer toward normal, the way we travel has changed forever, especially when it comes to business travel. Corporate travel managers, CFOs and CHROs, I’m talking to you: Gone are the days of the road warrior. Welcome to the era of “bleisure.”
What Is ‘Bleisure’?
A combination of “business” and “leisure,” bleisure is exactly what it sounds like: a single trip that fuses the personal and the professional, and it’s the latest evolution of our post-COVID reality. When the world shut down in March 2020, the lines between home and office blurred beyond recognition, leading many to work longer hours and burn out as they struggled to disconnect. But now? Most workers would rather find another job than return to the office full-time. And while we’ve technically had the tools and technology that allow for bleisure for some time, it wasn’t until the pandemic normalized things like video conferencing and highlighted their efficiency that the necessity of business travel was seriously called into question. These days workers are demanding work-life balance, and they’ve realized that a trip doesn’t have to be business or pleasure—it can be both.
In practice, bleisure travel can take many shapes. For example, let’s say you have to go to New York City on a Monday for a client meeting on Tuesday. In 2019, you would have been likely to catch the first flight out of LaGuardia on Wednesday morning in order to get back to the office and your partner ASAP. These days, your partner might tag along from the start, and, after your meeting on Tuesday, you’ll both work remotely for the rest of the week before spending the weekend sightseeing. Or, perhaps you’re like me and would prefer more of an extended getaway. A few months ago I spent some time in Tarifa, Spain, and I was able to spend the mornings learning to kiteboard and still work east coast hours, all without missing a beat.
Embracing bleisure is another way organizations can acknowledge and honor employees as people with lives outside of their home offices. Just as we’ve adjusted to children running around in the background on Zoom calls and more flexible work hours, incorporating bleisure into your corporate travel policy just makes sense.
3 Tips for Corporate Travel Managers
If you’re in any way involved in making or approving travel plans for others at your company, you’ll need to keep bleisure top of mind as you make arrangements. Once it’s been determined that video conferencing won’t suffice and travel is necessary, incorporate these three tips to increase retention and maybe even save a few bucks.
1. Let employees call the shots. If we’ve learned anything from the Great Reshuffle, it’s that employees want more control and more flexibility. From remote work to better benefits, employees currently wield more power than any time in recent memory, and when it comes to corporate travel, you should expect much of the same.
Rather than dictating to traveling employees when they’ll take off and touch down, where they’ll stay and eat and drink, consult employees on their preferences. Would they rather fly out in the morning, afternoon or evening? Would they like to stay in the conference hotel or a bit outside of downtown, away from the hustle and bustle? How many days will they be gone? If they are extending their stay, what hours would they like to work, if any?
Of course, stay within your budget, but be transparent with employees about their options and allow them to make as many selections as you can. Consider implementing a stipend program and let employees know in advance how much the company is able to cover. This can be done in several ways: by giving employees a single budget for the whole trip or breaking it down into more specific categories (e.g., $200/night maximum for accommodations). Start by polling employees on their preferences and go from there.
2. Upgrade where you can. According to a recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey, 45% of respondents stated they’re more anxious or stressed about business travel than they previously were, and it’s easy to understand why: Flight cancellations and delays are soaring, and COVID (re)infection is still very much a possibility.
Although so much is out of our control when traveling, there are ways to make the journey less stressful with certain upgrades and luxuries such as upgrading to business class seating, lounge passes for frequent travelers or spa/fitness credits at a nearby wellness center. Show your employees you’re invested in them and appreciate their efforts by going the extra mile—they literally did for you!
3. Take advantage of discounts and deals. Travel upgrades don’t always mean paying more. In fact, there are plenty of discounts and deals to be had on luxury travel, particularly for the bleisure traveler. Consider opening a travel credit card or joining a travel rewards program in order to gift your employees luxury travel experiences without breaking the bank. The options are endless and will save your business money in the long run
Bleisure As a Benefit
Just as business leaders and employees together redesigned the way we work, corporate travel managers and their colleagues can also seize this opportunity—yes, opportunity—to reimagine how and why we travel. According to one GBTA study, a seamless travel experience overwhelmingly influences employee retention, recruitment and results, with 79% of business travelers saying that their experiences traveling on behalf of the company “impacts their overall job satisfaction.” Build bleisure benefits into your corporate travel budget, and watch employee retention rates soar.