Business or b-leisure?

“Never mix business with pleasure,” or so they used to say. With an increasing number of business travellers now extending their trips for leisure motivations, the “b-leisure” trend is redefining both how MICE players market their offerings, and the corporate travel policies of large organisations

“B-leisure”. The blended word, which describes the practice of extending business trips for leisure purposes, has moved from an occasional incident to a trending phenomenon in recent years.

While the concept of mixing work and play on travel is certainly not new, when and how exactly did it start to become such a trend?

The authors of the Routledge Handbook of Hotel Chain Management, published in 2016, found that the trend of formally incorporating leisure activities into business trips can be traced back to the late 1990s.

In fact, in a 2000 US survey, 51% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” combined business and leisure on their work trips.

By 2014, this figure had gone up substantially. A Bridgestreet Global Hospitality survey found that over 6 in 10 respondents took “b-leisure”-style trips that year, with nearly half even saying that they added personal travel days to “every” or “most” business trips.

Nearly 80% of respondents also agreed that adding leisure days to business travel increased the overall value of work assignments.

Some trade observers believe the rise of b-leisure has coincided with the growing focus on employee wellness and work-life balance.  Imagine, for example, flying halfway around the world for a three-hour business meeting, then immediately turning around to get on the first 16-hour flight back home.

Adding days; added benefits

Instead of driving their employees to the ground, companies are now leveraging the leisure component of their travel to provide their staff with more flexible, and often tailored experiences.

Bertrand Saillet, General Manager at FCM Travel Solutions Southeast Asia, says this leads to “happier, better-rested, and more productive employees”.

The proliferation of metasearch engines, which comb the prices of air tickets and hotels listed on all travel-related websites, is another factor fuelling the b-leisure surge.

Trivago and Skyscanner, for example, aggregate and compare prices from a whole host of platforms and providers. This removes the need for travellers to go through travel agents, thereby allowing business travellers to conveniently make their own leisure arrangements and select the most affordable add-ons.

Even non-traditional holiday accommodation options like Airbnb, a short-term lodging web portal that matches guests with home or vacation rental owners, lend themselves naturally to the idea of b-leisure travel.

A spokesperson for Airbnb Asia-Pacific tells HRM Asia its range of accommodation options allows “business travellers to explore the local neighbourhoods and live like locals during the weekend,” once work is out of the way.

The spokesperson says Airbnb’s data show that business travellers stay an average of six days, compared to four days for leisure travellers, indicating some extra days added for vacations. In fact, almost 15% of business travel stays are 10 days and above.

Staff just want to have fun

Cities in the US and Europe are the most attractive b-leisure destinations for travellers from Singapore, with close to a third of trips to Houston and more than a quarter of trips to Paris being b-leisure trips.

This correlates with Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s white paper on b-leisure last year, which found that the greater the distance between the origin and destination cities, the higher the likelihood of leisure add-ons.

Top 10 b-leisure routes out of Singapore:

1.    Houston (31% of trips including b-leisure add-ons)

2.    San Francisco (30%)

3.    New York (28%)

4.    Paris (26%)

5.    London (21%)

6.    Tokyo (15%)

7.    Sydney (15%)

8.    Melbourne (14%)

9.    Seoul (11%)

10. Taipei (11%)

Source: Carlson Wagonlit Travel, July 2016

Constant phenomenon

Alvan Aiau, Vice President, Global Sales and Programme Management, Asia-Pacific, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), counters that employees across the ranks have been tagging on personal time to their business trips for years.

But he says b-leisure has been receiving more attention lately because mobile devices and constant connectivity have blurred the lines between work and personal time. Today, people can work from anywhere, at any time, he says.

“This has allowed people to think about what to do during their free time and work time, and so the lines between both are blurred, which is also why b-leisure is talked about more now,” says Aiau.

CWT’s 2016 white paper on b-leisure also found that it was not a new phenomenon. Based on a subset of 7.3 million flights taken by 1.9 million business travellers in 2015, CWT found that 20% stayed an extra Saturday night either at the beginning or at the end of each trip.

These values were largely unchanged since a similar survey in 2011, indicating no significant growth in b-leisure, only an increase in awareness.

It would seem that this spotlight on b-leisure has not translated into higher demand, but perhaps merely led to more organisations and HR now paying closer attention to the potential benefits.

Aiau explains that even with more companies sending employees overseas, the number of b-leisure trips has not jumped exponentially. This is because travellers have a fixed capacity for b-leisure. 

What this means is when they do it, they only take a maximum of one to two b-leisure trips per year, almost irrespective of how much they travel.  In other words, b-leisure travel does not scale with the total amount of corporate travel.

General Manager of Pan Pacific Singapore Gino Tan believes that while b-leisure travel will always remain an essential option, sentiment towards business travel in general is likely to remain subdued in the current economic climate.  

“There’s a general cautiousness across most sectors and corporates are expected to manage their budgets more carefully this year,” says Tan, adding that this will affect b-leisure numbers as well.

To counter this, Tan says Pan Pacific Singapore has had to look beyond merely selling room nights, and instead focus on delivering superior products and service. Those are factors that can influence a business traveller to extend their trips with the property, he says.

For instance, one of its Singapore hotels, Parkroyal on Beach Road, offers a complimentary shuttle service to tourist precincts such as Marina Bay, Chinatown, and Orchard Road, making it easier for guests to explore the city.

Through strategic tie-ups (such as with the HSBC Rugby 7s tournament in Singapore), Pan Pacific is also able to offer unique experiences to business travellers who are extending their trips.

Flexible travel policy a perk

Still, given CWT’s research shows the rate of b-leisure trips has stayed constant since 2011, observers say it is likely such travel options will remain in steady demand for a while. 

That same research found that younger travellers are significantly more likely to take b-leisure trips, and want to do so. For those aged 20 to 25, the rate is close to 15%, the highest of all age segments.

With this group of millennials now moving into managerial positions and roles that traditionally require more business travel, organisations will naturally be looking toward ensuring options to extend are available on each trip.

Indeed, in a survey commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, it was found that Asian business travellers now enjoy greater autonomy and are demanding more flexible travel policies. Some 56% of respondents viewed business travel as a perk, rather than an unwelcome job requirement.

“For companies with frequent business travellers, adding b-leisure guidelines to your travel policy could be a well-calculated investment used to attract and retain employees,” says FCM Travel Solutions’ Saillet.

Organisations that are able to leverage on their travel management partners to provide additional services to business travellers can also benefit from substantial cost savings.

This is because they are able to negotiate for better deals or additional value-adds due to the extended trip, while the cost of the extension itself will generally be borne by the traveller, he adds.

Analysing the Workday advantage

Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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