Is Bleisure Travel Dead?

By Jessica Sillers

Considerations When Business Travel Goes from Perk to Risk

For the last several years, a trend was rapidly developing where business travelers would pad a few personal days onto a business trip. Blending business and leisure into “bleisure” trips seemed like a win-win overall. Travelers could get more fun and cost savings out of corporate travel, and businesses had an easy way to boost morale for road warriors.

Of course, 2020 poured a bucket of cold water onto pretty much all non-essential travel. More than 90% of businesses cancelled or suspended trips in response to the pandemic. As you look ahead to 2021, make a plan to navigate the impact of travel uncertainty on your employee’s morale and your corporate travel management strategy.

Travel May Not Bounce Back Yet

Some surveys indicate that business travel may pick back up over the next six months compared to the near-total shutdown in the spring of 2020. Other reports show that more than 60% of corporate travel managers anticipate a steep reduction in travel plans compared to 2019. As long as the pandemic remains volatile, we can likely expect business travel to be in flux, too.

Living with rapidly shifting guidelines on how and whether to resume business trips is going to be a challenge for travelers and their supervisors, likely continuing well into 2021. Management professionals need to consider flexible alternatives to meet project goals if scheduled meetings and inspections get cancelled unexpectedly. Dealing with cancellations and unused ticket management may be a more important part of expense management than in other years.

Business travel may not return to its normal levels until there’s a vaccine and case rates drop down to a safely managed level. The return of bleisure may additionally depend on factors like when museums and other attractions are open, and when employees feel safe exposing themselves and their families to more crowded areas for vacation.

Travel Tips for Managers

In normal times, 75% of Millennial employees view travel as a job perk. Other sources suggest more than 80% of employees overall view travel positively. However, in 2020 and probably 2021 as well, travel may carry a higher degree of anxiety, even for enthusiastic travelers. Managers can play an important part in setting the tone and working toward safe, successful outcomes.

Reframe the travel conversation.

Travel may feel more like a liability than a perk. When discussing travel expectations, be ready to talk about safety and any accommodations you’re required to offer (including ADA accommodations).

Provide guidance through your travel policy.

Update your travel policy to reflect current safety guidelines. Consult resources like the CDC to get trustworthy information.

Facilitate self-booking.

Travelers may prefer the standardization of a hotel environment, or the extra privacy of an Airbnb rental with contact-free key transfer. Managers can empower travelers to choose what makes them feel safest by choosing travel management software that makes booking easy.

Check work-life balance with bleisure travelers.

If you know a top performer often scheduled bleisure trips to unwind after a big meeting, it might be smart to touch base. Are they jumping from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting without building in downtime? Make sure employees know they are still welcome to make use of PTO, even if they won’t be leaving home.

The New Bleisure Trip

Working from home may have felt like a perk for a while, but for many workers, the luster has worn off by now. Airbnb and some resorts and hotels report a marked increase in requests for long-term stays. For some travelers, 28 days is the new weekend trip.

If you’re living, working, and educating children from home anyway, why not get a change of scenery? Employees who know they’ll be working virtually for the foreseeable future may not feel much need to notify their manager that they’re working from a resort in Colorado, rather than their home in Virginia. Make sure to clarify with your employees what information you need from them, if any, when they decide to relocate temporarily.

Will a “digital nomad” lifestyle replace the bleisure trip trend?

It likely depends on whether pandemic work adjustments lead to a long-term shift in making remote work permanent. For the time being, if you are resuming business travel, talk with your travelers in advance. Discuss any personal travel plans they may have in conjunction with their work trips. You may find that booking from another airport could make sense, or even that they’re interested in a long-term stay in a location near a planned business travel site.

If an employee’s temporary relocation means booking a business trip flight is more expensive than flying from their typical departure airport, consult your legal team for guidance on whether you can expect the employee to cover the difference in cost.

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