Three trends to thrive in the newly-created “bleisure” travel segment.
Historically, the travel industry has been clearly segmented. People traveled for business or pleasure without a significant overlap between those two, and work-from-anywhere policies were rare or nonexistent. Hence, customer behavior was predictable, and as companies learned more about their customers–and over time, they learned a lot–they built products tailored to a specific bracket.
Leisure travelers wanted a place to disconnect from work, so companies developed concepts like resorts with amenities for different profiles, from luxury travelers to budget-conscious adventurers. Also, this accelerated the marketing efforts around popular tourist destinations, which was strengthened by offering special deals and promotions.
On the other hand, business travelers needed a different set of features, like a central location to optimize their mobility within a city, elegant spaces to host business partners, such as conference rooms, cafes and spa centers, and to streamline payments and billing in line with the company’s accounting requirements.
With the wider adoption of remote work, a new trend that blends business and leisure has risen. There is more “bleisure” travel now, without a clear differentiation by destination or purpose of travel, but rather a merge and interpenetration of services and products depending on the behavior of certain customer groups.
Both travel “hardware” — destinations, accommodations, flights — and travel “software” — services, payments, marketing and promotion — have mixed and “blended.” This has created a new market segment that traditional travel companies are eager to snatch.
Here are three ways the business travel industry is being redefined and some potential trends and synergies that we might see in coming years.
1. Everyone will need to be more flexible
Work-from-anywhere policies have increased flexibility for everyone.
A group of remote workers from San Francisco who flew to San Diego for a week-long bleisure trip might have enjoyed the city so much that they decided to stay for a month. A team from London visiting clients in Australia opted to extend their trip and report back to headquarters. In their free time, of course, they will enjoy all the natural wonders the country offers.
The scenarios above are only two of myriad potential ways in which employees who can work from anywhere now join the digital nomad ranks, even if only temporarily. But with around 50% of U.S. workers able to work remotely and numbers in other countries rising, it is a situation that might happen very frequently.
Something that companies need to understand is that bleisure travelers demand flexibility. A Google survey revealed that 85% of travel marketers considered flexibility with bookings and cancellations a very important factor.
There are ways in which hospitality companies are adapting to this. CitizenM designed a pioneering hotel membership program, offering a fixed rate at its properties. Airbnb’s Flexible Search model has boosted travel numbers in Europe while having a positive, sustainable impact.
The companies that will thrive catering to bleisure travelers provide flexibility in addition to other must-haves like affordability and an emphasis on the traveler’s experience.
2. Contact, connection and community will be key business drivers
Companies that prioritize these three Cs will likely see a surge in their revenues.
Contact: People who work from anywhere need good WiFi, a comfortable space to work, and easy access to conveniences like power outlets. Having these readily accessible will draw more people to your space.
And if you’d like to take an extra step, here’s an idea from WeWork: private booths for those that need to take a Zoom call or engage in deep work. Another example is Delta’s project, in partnership with T-Mobile, which aims to introduce fast, free Wi-Fi in most aircraft by the end of 2024.
Paired with contact comes connection. And here, I do not mean WiFi.
One of the challenges that many digital nomads face is the lack of a community which can result in loneliness and disconnection. The need for human connection is paramount, especially when working for long hours looking at a screen.
Hence, travel service providers must underscore the relevance of spaces fostering community, collaboration and social interaction.
Placing a good value on connection results in the third C, which is community. When people feel inspired by a hospitality brand, they will either want to stay longer or come back more often. If the company has sister properties in other parts of the world, they will likely prioritize your brand.
3. Expect increased cross-industry collaboration
Before its pre-IPO ordeal, WeWork’s founders developed an idea called WeLive. It was seen as obnoxious at the time. Still, today, a concept like that is alluring for remote workers traveling for the first time, giving them immediate access to a community.
Other brands, like Selina, have capitalized on this, building hostels and co-working spaces to diversify their revenue between the people who book accommodation, the people who book workspace, and the people who book both.
While Selina was born with digital nomadism in mind, we can expect big hotel names like Hilton, Marriott, and IHG to plot a project that attempts to capture this attractive market niche. Concepts like Yotel or the Marriott-developed Moxy, which has dynamic lobbies that foster human interaction, are already addressing this demographic, and we should not be surprised if we see synergies between companies that are well-established in the hospitality market with those that have emerged in the coworking or shared office arena to provide the ultimate bleisure experience.
As the world continues to adapt to the reality of remote work, more trends will likely emerge. However, the concept of bleisure is something that is here to stay, and it is something that travel providers will need to consider in their growth and development. Given that this type of traveler tends to be highly community-oriented and has strong brand loyalty, the companies that manage to capture the bleisure segment effectively can gain an edge in today’s competitive and increasingly crowded market.