‘Bleisure’: The travel trend mixing work and play

As we move towards a more hybrid approach to work, the boundaries between work and life fade further into a blur, changing our perception of business and personal travel as a whole. Many professionals worldwide are extending their business stays to include weekends, creating a fusion of business and leisure travel recently coined as ‘bleisure travel.’

Companies have recently come to realise the hereditary role of employee well-being – both physical and mental – in the growth of any successful business. When it comes to ‘bleisure’ travel, the potential benefits are significant, including an increase in both employee morale, productivity and reduced levels of stress. Companies should aim to not only create a culture where ‘bleisure’ travel is allowed, but one where it is thoroughly encouraged to help employees find a healthy work-life balance.

Corporate travel has traditionally been a priority target for the travel industry, due to the increasing expenditures and the potential for recurring business. According to Statista, corporate travel expenditure has increased by between six and seven percent each year since 2015. Of course, with the onset of Covid-19, there was a massive drop in travel globally; this consequently led to a drop in business travel spending. However, forecasts show that expenditure on business travel is expected to see growth by 2024.

Additionally, reports suggest that 60 per cent of work visits now include a leisure component. With these numbers, it’s clear that leisure travel has become a significant part of contemporary business visits; and it is likely to remain that way.

Naturally, the concept of bleisure travel appeals to business travellers that have traditionally found themselves in various countries yet never explored them due to continuous business obligations to fulfil. On a fundamental level, combining work with pleasure or personal hobbies can help foster increased enjoyment and a better belief that work travel is worthwhile.

From the perception of the hardworking employee, this concept is a viable way to save money on travel expenditures while still enjoying an overseas vacation and delivering quality work and output. As the company would pay for at least a portion of their travel and lodging expenses, this leaves them with extra leisure money to spend in a way they would wish to. Most importantly, this enables them to take vacations in the first place; many low wage workers are unable to do so or refuse to spend their savings on a holiday.

Business travel additionally plays an important role in building the quality of relationships, both between colleagues and contacts. Whilst away from the normal day to day, it can boost team-working skills and give employees a chance to actually get to know each other.

With what has been a slow two years for travel, the emergence of the bleisure tourist has benefited the hospitality and tourism industry by attracting people who are ready to stay longer, explore new destinations and, in-turn, spend more money.

The future of the tourist sector in the Middle East can profit from regularly benchmarking its current passengers' preferences, while gaining insight from studying tourism demands within growing economies, such as China and India. While leisure travel will continue to be a considerable focus for the hospitality industry, it’s important to recognise the changing needs of visitors in the Middle East region and adapt accordingly.

Due to the strong economic outlook and anticipated growth in visitor numbers, international regions, including the Middle East, will engage extensively in marketing and promotional efforts to attract clients via value packages. With packages comes the opportunity for building loyalty, for example, through a loyalty programme dedicated specifically for bleisure travellers. The Middle East, and especially the UAE, is expected to have a growth of 32 per cent in business travel by the end of 2022 alone. This gives tourism groups the best chance to market their memberships in the region.

Following the close of Expo 2020, Dubai successfully established itself as a bleisure hub, with the perfect set-up for business travellers.

The Middle East – and in particular, the UAE – has also grown to become a leading financial hub in the world, as it joins the East and West, attracting professionals and business travellers alike. Stakeholders in the UAE tourist business have been global leaders in delivering a compelling value proposition that has helped revive its tourism industry, despite one of the most challenging economic periods in recent history. Looking ahead, through its focus on institutionalising the concept of ‘bleisure’ tourism, the region looks set to continue establishing itself as a global leader within the ever-evolving travel and tourism industry.

* Panos is VP Development, Middle East, Eurasia & Africa at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts