With summer leisure travel booming and little signs that traditional business transient demand will approach 2019 levels for hotels, hoteliers say there are signs that business travel is alive and well in their hotels, just in a different form.
What they’re seeing instead of an increase in blended leisure and business travel, generally referred to as “bleisure” travel within the hotel industry, are rooms filling up on typically slow nights such as Sundays and Thursdays and bringing public spaces such as lobbies back to life.
Vanessa Claspill, senior vice president of sales for Pivot Hotels, the lifestyle division of Davidson Hospitality Group, said her company is now estimating that 15% to 20% of travelers heading to business conventions are extending their stays to add some leisure travel to company-sanctioned trips. She said that type of demand is hitting across the board right now.
“Last year, I would have said it was beach destinations, but as we’ve trended into 2022, it’s all our destinations, in general,” she said. “It’s the Nashvilles of the world. All the places people want to go and where people are also doing business. Both traditional convention properties and urban hotels are benefiting greatly.”
Claspill said the same desires that are fueling the wave of pent-up leisure demand are driving the crossover into bleisure.
“The last couple of years taught us a few things about the human spirit,” she said. “We want to travel and adventure and connect. Now [when business travelers go somewhere] they want to understand what a destination is about, and people are taking the time to learn.”
Gregg Forde, president and chief operating officer for Island Hospitality Management, agreed that the phenomenon is being felt across the same destinations that are enjoying a boom in leisure travel. He said because the industry doesn’t traditionally segment out travelers for this sort of blended traveler, sometimes it comes down to hotel staffs keeping an eye on activity in public spaces to get a sense of how many travelers are traveling for both business and leisure.
“What I’m seeing today when I’m out in our markets and our hotels is more people active in the lobby space regardless of hotels or brands,” he said. “They’re working or on calls. So we’re seeing an uptick [in demand] for small meetings space and food-and-beverage outlet revenue and activating a lot of spaces that weren’t during the pandemic.”
While the data doesn’t do much to designate travelers as bleisure versus other segments, other than showing an uptick on shoulder days, Nolan Wrentmore — vice president of revenue management and e-marketing at Aimbridge Hospitality — questioned whether there’s much value in tracking it too closely, anyway.
“I don’t know that it matters,” he said. “We don’t care why somebody’s staying at a hotel. We create all these goofy segments and things for our own.”
Both Forde and Claspill said their companies are seeing business travelers turning work trips into family trips, with children and spouses tagging along in destinations like Orlando where one person can attend a business meeting or conference while the rest of the family enjoys attractions such as amusement parks.
“I think you’re seeing that expand, and it’s happening more when someone is traveling into an upscale select-service hotel that you wouldn’t think of as a family travel destination but is in a great location like Los Angeles, San Diego or South Florida,” Forde said. “It’s happening in those great cities with fun things to do.”
There’s evidence that bleisure travel doesn’t just start with business travelers deciding to spice up work trips, but also maybe trying to fit work around vacations. With an explosion in remote work through the course of the pandemic, this is now more possible than ever.
Cassie Bond, vice president of revenue strategy for Remington Hotels, said more companies are seeing the value of letting employees work while traveling for personal reasons, which opens opportunities for hotel demand.
“We had one of our area directors of revenue study abroad for three months, in a different country each month, and she worked completely fine even with different time zones,” she said. “All she had to have was reliable internet.”
In terms of satisfying bleisure guests, it comes down to being the best of both worlds. Claspill said hotels still need to be able to function for business travelers, offering high-speed internet to work, but also be able to point them to the fun and unique experience leisure travelers will want to see.
Claspill stressed that it’s vital for hotel companies to do everything possible to both entice business travelers into extending trips and to ease the transition from the work portions of their trips and the leisure portions.
She said front-desk agents should be trained to do things like transition a hotel stay between a corporate card and a private card with as little friction for the guest as possible.
“You have to be able to close the folio for the business portion without making them move to a different room,” Claspill said, noting that most modern property-management systems should be able to easily support those functions.
But before even getting to that point, Claspill said hotels should be offering up personalized content and experiences to business travelers that will entice them to extend their stays.
“We’ve got an opportunity to send that message and say, ‘Hey, would you like to extend your business travel and have an experience of your own?” she said.
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