Travel is back. With the recent Memorial Day holiday seeing near pre-pandemic travel levels and Fourth of July predicted to see almost 50 million travelers it’s clear that Americans are ready to reprise traveling both nationally and internationally. Personal travel is leading the recovery with business travel also coming back as conventions and events resume though many companies continue with restrictions around job-related travel and gatherings. Based on recent flight-booking data, travel is up 16% for this summer and 75% of Americans report that they plan to travel domestically between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Amidst this surge toward pre-pandemic travel levels, there’s a new group of travelers emerging for travel and hospitality brands to try and capture–the “bleisure” traveler. While the concept of adding on a few days to either end of a business trip isn’t new, the rise of workplace flexibility has changed the landscape.
First, with the prevalence of hybrid work environments, employees that are taking business-related trips are also leveraging the flexibility when they’re physically back in office to tack on extra time at new destinations. While the concept of taking an extra day or weekend at a destination you were brought to for work isn’t new, the ability to stay and availability to more employees is different. Think—someone who may need to travel at the beginning of the week now having the option to work remotely and enjoy not just the weekend in a new city but the days leading up to it.
Second, there are also people taking extended trips based on the “work from anywhere” mentality. This encompasses workers who may once have been in-office five days a week and can now opt to work for an extended time from a location other than their home. Think—someone who is going to Portland for a month to get a feel for the city, continuing their regular professional routine and enjoying the city on the evenings and weekends.
Unexpected destinations can benefit.
With the recent removal of testing requirements for entry into the United States, the outlook for international travel is better and big cities could be seeing a surge in visitors. Under-the-radar destinations with less crowds might be able to capture the interest of the Bleisure travelers if they make a compelling case on why to visit.
Bleisure travelers can bring tourism to smaller cities that might not have experienced as much traditional tourism. Leveraging their affordability over a longer period of time and the enjoyment of exploring a city or region at a more leisurely pace–which is critical if attractions and sights are more spread-out–could be a strategy for city tourism boards to keep in mind. For shorter, vacation trips, travelers might be looking for a destination with more densely located attractions and amenities, but if a bliesure tripper has more time, a region that can be discovered over a longer period of time may stand out.
Brands can win if they can meet their unique needs.
For most business travelers, the decision on where to stay while traveling is influenced by company policies. And many hotel brands have perfected catering to a business-focused traveler, who likely doesn’t require too many on-site amenities or services beyond access to a coffee bar and wi-fi (complementary or not). However, if a traveler is now going to be extending their stay in a city, how can a property that was a good fit for business also entice patrons to stay beyond the immediate need?
Bleisure travelers require accommodations suitable for working (so a typical hotel room likely won’t do) but also something that fits a vacation vibe. Hotels are attempting to meet this demand by highlighting features beyond the printer in their business center – reliable, complimentary Wi-Fi, private phone rooms and workstations.
Another consideration is inflation and the current price of air travel, gas and hospitality-related services. Loyalty is being eclipsed by cost-driven decisions, a price that might be palatable for a company to pay may not mesh with a Bleisure budget.
Brands can team up to create offers and engage with a traveler for the entire trip and differentiate themselves in a cost-competitive market.
To create value in a cost-competitive world, travel brands have long tried to create a bond between themselves and their customers through frequent flyer programs and hotel points, but with the rise of brand-agnostic rewards and the opportunity cost of simply selecting the cheapest flight, brands are left to consider how they can win loyalty when cost is often the number one driver, not brand affinity.
Airline-hotel partnerships have become fairly common, with the CEO of American Airlines alongside the CEO of Hyatt citing their partnership during a fireside chat as a strategy to differentiate themselves and work together to create value.
Other airlines are even offering the ability to book tours and attractions in a bundle to make travel more cost effective and seamless, as are lodging providers adding in “experiences”. Most of these are focused on large cities, and partnerships that cater to longer-stay travelers in a variety of destinations could stand out.
With the pent-up demand for travel being unleashed, consumer brands should think about how they might engage with this growing segment of travelers.