Workers planning 'bleisure' trips this summer spur travel demand

A new study shows Americans plan to extend their summer vacations in order spend at least some of their time away working.

Travelers who plan to work at least part of the time while on summer vacation this year are creating increased travel demand, according to a new study by business consultancy Deloitte.

The report examined travelers’ behaviors and preferences, and showed travel concerns over COVID-19 have waned. Those concerns, however, have been replaced by financial worries, with many travelers keeping a close eye on higher costs. This year, 44% of those surveyed identified finances or the cost of travel as a primary concern for compared to 13% in Deloitte's 2021 survey.

After being decimated by the pandemic over the past two years, business travel is expected to return to pre-COVID numbers by 2024, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

Business travel that is combined with leisure trips or tourism is usually referred to as “blended travel” by the GBTA. Other organizations have begun calling it “bleisure” travel. By whatever name, the trend means business travelers are adding days onto the front or back end of their business plans to relax with family and friends.

"So, if they live on the East Coast and want to hang on the West Coast, instead of trying to squeeze that trip in during Memorial Day weekend, where you lose a day or two in travel, maybe they leave Wednesday night. So, [they're] working those first couple of days and then having full days to relax on the weekend," said Mike Daher, lead researcher for Deloitte's US Transportation, Hospitality & Services (THS) practice.

Bleisure travel has also opened employees up to farther destinations -- trips that may take them overseas for business but last weeks or a month at a time -- half the time can be spent working and the other half enjoying vacation, Daher said.

"There are a ton of benefits to bleisure travel," he said.

The majority of travelers, however, plan to remain in the US this summer, as concerns over international COVID-19 restrictions persist, Deloitte's survey showed. As a result, US-based properties, carriers, and destinations stand to attract the lion’s share of travel spending, as just 15% of Americans (27% of travelers overall) plan to take an international flight.

deloitte bleisure travel study graph 1 Deloitte Insights

High international airfares could be a factor, along with unpredictable entry and exit regulations and the possibility of winding up stranded overseas after testing positive for COVID-19. The US hospitality industry has a busy summer ahead, with 67% of travelers planning hotel stays, and 16% planning rental stays, Deloitte’s survey found.

But domestic air travel is up... way up, according to Daher.

More than half (54%) of Americans feel safe taking a flight this summer, compared to 31% in 2021. With the rise in air travel, fewer Americans will hit the road this summer: 62% will drive for at least one part of their trip, down from 76% in 2021. 

Since February, business travel has seen a double-digit surge, according to the GBTA’s April Business Travel Recovery Poll. When asked to characterize their company’s spending on travel compared to 2019, on average, respondents expect their company will be back to 59% of their pre-pandemic spending levels by the end of this year, and at reach 79% by the end of 2023.

Deloitte, which surveyed 4,233 Americans March 23-30, revealed workplace flexibility — enabling employees to work remotely from anywhere — continues to increase and has had a marked effect on business travel.

One in five surveyed (20%) by Deloitte said they plan to work during their longest summer trip. Those who plan to combine leisure with work also tend to take longer trips and travel with larger groups. Three of four surveyed (75%) indicated their longest trip will last one to three weeks. And four out of five said they expect to extend their summer trip because they can work remotely. One-third plan to extend their trip by a day or two; another third plan to add three to six days.

Deloitte’s findings were backed by GBTA research.

In a survey conducted by the organization late last year, corporate travel managers were asked whether more employees are interested in extending work trips for leisure compared to before the pandemic. Fully 82% said their workers were equally or more interested in blended travel than they used to be.

The majority of travelers who plan on blended travel are generally younger and wealthier, Deloitte’s survey found. Those who identified as 18-to-34-years old are five times more likely to work on vacation, and those who report an income of more than $100,000 a year are twice as likely to do the same.

deloitte bleisure travel study graph 2 Deloitte Insights

“To that end, 40% of them say their trip budget this year exceeds pre-pandemic levels...,” Deloitte's report stated.

Those participating in bleisure travel tend to prefer private rentals. While overall 20% of travelers plan to stay in private rentals this summer, bleisure travelers are twice as likely to do so. What’s more, they’re more likely to use private rentals for future trips; Deloitte said extra room to work makes rentals more attractive.

Some dos and don't, according to Daher? First, consider a wider travel window before and after a trip to get better airfares and avoid airport congestion on holidays. And don't expect that airline clubs will have a lot of space to work in, or that they won't be crowded .

"So, if you're combining business and leisure, don’t plan to make that important video conference call in an airline club," Daher said. "And, do consider a simple telephone conference call instead of a video call. It'll allow you to walk around to get to know and enjoy your surroundings while also taking care of business."

Set expectations with colleages: let them know you'll not be taking video calls. And block out time for work and leisure; don't allow one to get in the way of another.

When considering a rental property or hotel, check out the work space that's available. A lot of hotels are rethinking work spaces for millennials who have a more nomadic lifestyle, so some hotels may accomodate bleisure travelers better than others.

"What is desktop space like? Is there enough space in the room to work if you're with a significant other, or is there a separate business space you can use in the hotel?" Daher said.

Finally: Do think big. Now is a good time to consider that bucket-list trip you've been dreaming of, because you can combine it with work to remain there longer; that'll reduce your airline and hotel expenses, Daher said.

"If you want to go on that African safari in Tanzania, this is the time to investigate that trip," he said. 

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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