When It Comes to Travel, Blended Is the New Business
Increased flexibility and the shift from in-person to hybrid or remote work have given workers more freedom in the way they travel. For consumers who are blending business and leisure travel, brands must satisfy the need for connection and set longer-term strategies around a trend that’s here to stay.
The travel industry has spent more than a year bemoaning the long-delayed return of business travel, and justifiably so. In October 2021, Morning Consult data revealed that 39 percent of frequent pre-pandemic business travelers said they’ll never return to the road. The number felt shocking at the time but has grown to 42 percent since, per February 2022 data.
But that doesn’t mean business travel is gone for good. It has just taken a new form: blended travel, sometimes known as “bleisure” or “workcations.” With this category quickly growing, brands must offer travelers the tools they need to accomplish the same work-life blend they have at home, on the road.
In-person work has permanently changed, prompting more travel opportunities
Industry experts are still pointing to a “return to the office” as a key indicator of a business travel resurgence. However, not only is returning to offices happening unevenly, but Americans also aren’t going back to old ways of working. Many executives no longer see the value of business travel, and there has been an increase in the share of workers who either have a newfound ability to work flexible hours or days, or are now able to work remotely.
This professional flexibility has translated to new travel behaviors. Around 4 in 10 employed people say that they will travel more frequently, and at different times of the day, week and year than they used to before COVID-19, due to flexible work schedules. These new habits often result in a blending of business and leisure travel.
Blending business and leisure isn’t new. For more than a decade, these blended occasions have been referred to as “bleisure,” which entails adding leisure or personal travel time to a scheduled business trip.
The new part is the broadening scope of these trips. A worker might take a vacation for two weeks instead of one, and bring along the tools and technology needed to work from the road part of the time. Or they might decide not to return home between two business trips, instead opting to work from a third, more leisure-centric location in between. The audience for such trips is big: The share of workers who anticipate taking each type of blended trip in the coming year is nearly equal to the share who say they will travel solely for business.
Brands may have preconceived notions about blended trips — that they’re long or perhaps even multi-destination affairs, or that such travelers flock to vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo instead of hotels. In reality, the majority of these trips will be less than a week in length, and traditional hotels tend to be the preferred accommodation, which opens the door for hotels to provide the amenities these travelers seek.
Brands must address the blended traveler’s need for connection
In the past, people traveling for business may have sought work stations and loyalty bonuses that they could accrue on their employer’s dime, while leisure travelers might have prioritized unique decor or proximity to sights and activities. When planning a blended trip, a traveler takes all of the above into account.
To better understand the blended traveler’s preferences, Morning Consult conducted a MaxDiff analysis of more than 20 possible amenities, determining which were more likely to be preferred relative to the others. Relative preference can provide guidance for brands’ product development and messaging. For example, Wi-Fi — both fast and free — is by far the most preferred amenity.
There are some demographic differences in preference. For younger travelers (ages 18 to 34), Wi-Fi still ranks at the top but is less of a differentiator. Instead, this group is more likely to want tech-forward offers like self check-in and checkout, equipment to facilitate meetings, and lifestyle amenities like workout facilities and laundry — in other words, services that help re-create their usual work and home environments. For those ages 35 to 44, a dedicated workspace stands out as a unique driver, likely because members of this group are most likely to be taking blended trips with children in tow. As for the oldest blended travelers, proximity to both business and leisure activities rises in importance.
Travelers choosing to stay in vacation rentals have slightly different priorities than those who opt for hotels. Unique design is compelling to this audience, suggesting that listings should play up their distinctive decor to attract travelers. But it’s not just about aesthetics; these travelers also prioritize functional amenities like access to parking and equipment and tools to facilitate meetings.
Given its advantages, blended travel is likely here to stay
There isn’t a clear consensus on the main motivating factors for blended travel. In fact, travelers appear to be driven nearly equally by multiple considerations that encompass everything from lifestyle to finances to logistics.
So while brands have to deal with the sting of a forever-altered business travel landscape, there are plenty of new opportunities to capitalize on the normalization of bleisure. At the very least, segmenting travelers into the binary categories of “business” and “leisure” to anticipate needs is no longer an effective approach.
Instead, companies must invest in the amenities that these travelers find compelling. Once properties are workcation-friendly, brands can adapt their messaging and communications to highlight the wide variety of motivators and benefits that blended travelers enjoy — an approach that should be integrated into long-term strategies now that blended travel is here to stay.
Lindsey Roeschke is the lead travel & hospitality analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the travel & hospitality industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, she served as a director of consumer and culture analysis at Gartner and spent more than a decade working at advertising agencies across three continents. Lindsey graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in communications and holds a master’s degree in strategic communications from Villanova University. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].