Mixing business with leisure: the rise of ‘bleisure’ in hotels

The combination of business and leisure is rapidly becoming a key trend in hotels. As such, hoteliers have been keen to target working guests with spaces that support the business environment, which are balanced against amenities that help guests to relax and unwind once their working day has ended. Alex Love takes a look at the growing bleisure trend.

Business travel has evolved in the past decade. Instead of flying in one day and then out the next, a new generation of traveller is increasingly seeking to make the most out of their trip.

Combining business and leisure, ‘bleisure’ is another portmanteau added to the corporate vocabulary and was first coined in 2009.

Despite gyms and leisure facilities being commonplace in hotels, the idea behind bleisure goes further than simply going for a swim at the end of a working day. It also concerns the widening of the visiting experience for the traveller, extending the trip by a day or so to take in the local culture, visiting restaurants, and maybe even sightseeing. This is because successful bleisure hotels are predominantly in city centres.

However, the bleisure traveller is also there to work, meaning that amenities such as unlimited Wi-Fi and desk spaces are essential for hotel rooms. It is a concept that hotels are taking seriously, with some even offering designated co-working spaces.

“As global business traveller numbers have grown at a swift rate in recent years, the concept of the 'bleisure traveller' has grown in to a traveller type that is now at the forefront of many tourism organisations’ marketing strategies,” explains GlobalData travel and tourism analyst Ralph Hollister,.

“Bleisure traveller numbers have grown in line with the increase in spending power within the millennial segment. As this generation has started to fill high paid positions within companies that send their employees on business trips, the demand for bleisure has excelled at a quick rate. According to Expedia, in 2017, approximately 60% of business trips were extended to leisure trips both in the US and globally.

“Millennials look to learn about new cultures and ideologies when travelling, they expect this even when on a business trip. According to AccorHotels.com, every third passenger was a millennial flying for a business trip in 2018.

“Accor repositioned its luxury Pullman brand to target a 'more cosmopolitan’ traveller. Pullman has tried to embrace the trend of mixed business and leisure use of its properties. The upscale hotel brand has promoted itself as a space for both business meetings and short weekend breaks.”

Bleisure as a revenue source

It’s not surprising that hotels are targeting bleisure travellers, as this group has proven to be a solid source of revenue. In 2017, a report by GBTA Foundation and Hilton surveyed 675 business travellers in North America about their bleisure experiences. It found that that 91% of travellers on bleisure trips stayed in a hotel for the business part. While this figure dropped slightly to 81% for those staying in a hotel during the leisure portion.

If hotels can attract bleisure travellers in the first place, then these customers tend to stay in the same property for the entirety of their trip. The GBTA and Hilton report also found that 82% of travellers remained in the same hotel for both the business and leisure parts of their time away.

By extending their stay by a night or two, the bleisure traveller will have the opportunity to explore more of their surroundings, instead of being confined to the interiors of airports, planes, hotel rooms, and conference suites.

Staying for extra days can also work out more cost-effective for the traveller, as much of the itinerary is likely to already be covered on expenses. While for hotels, it offers an opportunity to fill more rooms during the traditionally quieter week days. Alongside this, some hotels offer discounts for families of bleisure travellers.

91% of travellers on bleisure trips stayed in a hotel for the business part.

Hotel chains such as Raddison Blu, Hilton and Marriott also host conferences, which provide further opportunities to fill rooms with people who are in town for business.

Meliá Hotels International is another chain that has been actively pursuing the bleisure segment. In the Asia-Pacific region, 75% of its properties are what it calls bleisure hotels. The group’s figure drops in the Americas, with 45% of its hotels considered bleisure types; and it is lower still in the Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA) region with 30%. However, all of the group’s Middle East hotels have been set-up with the necessary facilities to meet the demands of the market.

In Madrid, Meliá Hotels International’s Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques aims to provide value-added services and experiences to its bleisure customers. For example, it offers exclusive visits to some of the city’s museums and the Teatro Real.

And despite a survey by Expedia Japan revealing that 81% of those questioned in the country had never heard of the term, it hasn’t stopped hotels in the country targeting the segment. This includes Royal Park Hotels and Resorts Company's (RPHS) 352-room Royal Park Hotel Iconic Osaka Midosuji, which opened on 16 March before Covid-19 forced a mass global shutdown.

The impact of COVID-19 on bleisure

The inescapable factor for every industry for the foreseeable future is Covid-19. Businesses are bracing themselves for a serious financial hit, which is expected to be particularly severe for the hotel industry as many thousands have had to close during the crisis.

At present, it is not known to what extent the pandemic will affect traveller behaviour once the virus has subsided. There is currently no indication for how long travel restrictions will last for, with the total economic damage also currently unclear. As a result, all previous projections for future travel growth are essentially void and need to be revised.

Pre-Covid-19 data illustrates that global business travel has been increasing at a swift rate for a number of years.

“Pre-Covid-19 data illustrates that global business travel has been increasing at a swift rate for a number of years,” adds Ralph Hollister. “From 2015 to 2019, global business arrivals grew at a CAGR of 4.8%. From 2019 to 2023, arrivals were expected to increase at a CAGR of 3.9%, reaching 265.4 million by 2023. However, this growth rate is likely to be heavily reduced due to the ongoing impacts associated with Covid-19.”

One thing that is almost inevitable in the post-Covid-19 world is that budgets will be smaller, at least in the immediate aftermath. This may mean that it will take some time for business travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels. However, some are predicting that that the UK hotel market will at least bounce back quickly in 2021. If this proves to be correct, then the bleisure market should also start to pick up again.