Hoteliers who participated in a recent webinar on trends in bleisure travel discussed how millennials are leading the push for more bleisure trips and want more wellness options and curated experiences.
GLOBAL REPORT—Hotel companies are finding new ways to convert business travelers to leisure guests, and that starts by innovating new ways to offer bleisure experiences.
During BTN Group’s “Bleisure in managed travel: How and why to embrace” webinar, sources outlined what’s driving the rise in extending business trips to include leisure activities.
Kelly Phillips, SVP of sales, customer engagement and industry relations at Hilton, said her company has surveyed guests of the flagship brand on their wants and preferences to indulge in more bleisure trips. The survey indicated working millennials show the most interest in adding leisure time to business travel.
“Seventy-five percent of young professionals see business travel as a major work perk, and 39% went so far as to say that they wouldn’t take a job that wouldn’t allow them to travel for business,” Phillips said. “Of those we surveyed, 69% said that they wish they could extend their trip for leisure, but almost half weren’t sure if they could; they felt a bit guilty about doing that. … (This study) signals that while extending a business trip to incorporate a little bit of extra personal time is something this generation of professionals really wants to do, but there’s definitely some uncertainty of how to go about it.”
Curating an experience
Michael Laumanns, executive director of business travel and global sales for North and Central America at Accor, described how guests are chasing unique experiences in leisure travel.
“Hotel firms recognize the fact that business travel is only part of the journey. … Consumer tastes and preferences have evolved,” he said. “Consumers expect surprised moments and experiences, and experiences are truly a form of social currency.”
Sometimes guests don’t have the time to extend a business trip by an extra night or two over the weekend, but Phillips said that doesn’t mean hotels can’t fit leisure activities into a guest’s schedule.
“It doesn’t need to be an extension to an existing stay,” she said. “We have great partnerships to help us leverage concerts, sporting events and other events, promoting leisure offers for our corporate customers to extend that experience.”
Communicating with corporate partners can reveal the types of offers their employees want and what they’re willing to pay to use them, Laumanns said.
“My recommendation is it’s such a highly personalized space that offers need to be customized to the needs of any organization,” he said.
Leisure time can be as simple as time set aside for exercise, which is why Hilton has invested in wellness offerings like its “Five feet to fitness” guestrooms, Phillips said.
“Based off of some of those conversations with our guests, wellness really stood out as one of the key areas of personal interest among business travelers today, and it closely mimics what we’re seeing in the travel industry more broadly, with wellness tourism as a subset growing twice as fast as general tourism,” she said. “… When traveling for business, we know that maintaining a wellness routine is a challenge, and the report indicated that 65% admit that they regularly pack workout gear but don’t ever use it, and 44% have admitted to gaining weight during travel for business given pressing schedules.”
Phillips said hotels can also provide healthier food-and-beverage options, which Hilton has introduced via its Herb N’ Kitchen grab-and-go outlet.
“Customize an F&B solution that makes sense for the market, but we have seen that grab-and-go option has been widely popular around the world,” she said.
The future of bleisure travel
Laumanns said that with the rise of bleisure trips and experiential travel, hotel companies are taking notice by developing brands that feel unique and part of a community. He added it’s easier for business travelers to unwind from a busy day if the hotel restaurant is packed with locals and not just their fellow conference attendees.
“One specific segment that shows quite dramatic growth due to this shift in consumer behavior is that of the so called ‘lifestyle hotel,’” he said. “We at Accor define lifestyle hotels as hotels that curate an elevated guest experience with a singular focus and attitude and product distinction. These hotels are really focal points for local communities, and are really attractive to hotel guests as well as locals.”
He added that hotel restaurants are evolving beyond the blossoming lifestyle segment.
“The times that the food-and-beverage concept is being developed and driven by corporate headquarters and then implemented chainwide, those days are long gone,” he said.
But both Phillips and Laumanns said it’s unlikely that hotel companies need to create entire hotel brands just for bleisure travel.
“Bleisure is not tied to a specific budget or level or type of property, it’s really happening across the board depending on the preferences and budgets of travelers,” Laumanns said.
Any hotel brand can take advantage of its market to make bleisure experiences work, Phillips said.
“Those big gateway cities that have lots of great appeal, like New York or San Francisco or Chicago, where there’s just a lot in the market to see and do, and (you can) really find those unique experiences within the markets,” she said. “I wouldn’t say (bleisure) is so much brand-driven as much as it really could be any brand in any market; it’s what you find and explore around that. But we do have some brands like I would say Curio that is targeting more toward that experiential place, or Canopy that sits in more of the residential areas that take on a local flavor. But I do think it has broad appeal across any brand and is very market-driven.”