By Arlene Coyle, Director, Managed Travel, Amadeus IT Group
There is a degree of healthy scepticism around the idea of ‘bleisure’- is it really a new phenomenon? What’s new is that flex-time, increased opportunities for self-employment, and more casual business practices have given business travellers more choice. This has produced a hybrid form of travel in which the lines between business and leisure tend to blur.
It’s true that consumerisation is a key ingredient of corporate travel. Modern travellers are increasingly looking for the same level of ease and convenience from business travel that they would expect from a leisure trip.
Moreover, as the sharing economy is growing, there will be a stronger need for flexibility and customisation in business travel. This presents some great opportunities for the industry to offer more personalised travel experiences to corporate travellers, while maximising commercial opportunities from this trend.
Imagine you’re on a business trip to Hamburg for the whole working week, and this weekend it happens to be your wedding anniversary. There’s an opportunity here for the travel consultant to suggest you extend your stay to celebrate with your partner. They could offer you a special discount for staying at the same hotel for two more nights or a package that includes an extra flight booking and tickets for a gig played by your favourite band, which happens to perform in Hamburg on the same weekend.
Unfortunately, most travel providers have only basic information about their customers, which prevents them from understanding their needs and delivering a truly personalised travel experience.
Our research into the profile of modern travellers, Future Traveller Tribes 2030, revealed that most business travellers fall into the Obligation Meeters category, which favours a no-hassle, tailored approach to booking flights, and will be receptive to the intelligent cross-selling of linked transport, accommodation and services that provide them with more convenience and “short cuts” to greater efficiency of travel.
To be able to make the most of these opportunities, TMCs and travel agencies are increasingly open to providing flexible booking options that involve switching between “expensed” accounts and personal spending for corporate travellers who may wish to attach a short break to the end of a business trip.
Airlines can also take advantage of the growth in bleisure by offering ancillary services, which appeal to this group of travellers. For instance, providing push messaging to help navigate the airport experience with intelligent recommendations, will help corporate travellers stay informed about where they need to be precisely and when, reducing down time. This will not only make their business trip easier but will help manage complex travel itineraries, including those involving leisure components.
Other services that could be appealing to bleisure travellers include flexible baggage arrangements and advanced transport management options, which allow travellers to improvise and make new arrangements on the go.
Airports can also innovate with how they maximise the time that corporate travellers spend waiting for a flight. Singapore Changi Airport, for instance, has an entertainment deck, which offers a movie theatre and a multimedia entertainment centre with Xbox 360 and Kinect stations.
The big players in the sharing economy have taken note of the managed travel niche and are tailoring their offerings to the business traveller. Airbnb and Uber have already launched dedicated offerings for business travellers and this trend is likely to grow.
While the sharing economy provides business travellers with more choice and flexibility, there are safety concerns that hinder the mainstream adoption of such services in corporate travel.
Many companies are yet to define their policies when it comes to duty of care and bleisure travel with some organisations opting to shut down access to such services because of concerns about the safety of their travellers. A recent study highlights that despite 89% of companies allowing ‘bleisure’ travel, almost a third don’t extend the protection offered by the corporate travel policy over these additional days.
The sharing economy does make it harder for companies to keep track of their employees and also to make sure their travel arrangements are in line with company policy. However, taking advantage of new technologies such as mobile traveller and tracker apps can help corporations to stay in touch with their business travellers regardless of where they are.
Also, working with certified accommodation and travel providers who offer strict vetting rules for providing access to their booking platform, would go a long way in alleviating any risk.
RRegardless of whether they embrace the sharing economy or not, the blurring of business and leisure time in life in general will force companies to adopt more consumer-like technologies in the workplace.
Travel managers have the opportunity to bridge the gap between business and leisure travel through effective use of data insights to drive personalisation. This smarter use of data underpins a TMC’s ability to provide the traveller with a customised experience.
Ironically, while modern travellers want more flexibility and choice, they value relevance above all. No one, least of all busy professionals, has time to waste trawling through endless streams of suggested hotels, flights and cars when they are booking a trip.
What we want is a list of relevant suggestions based on our personal preferences and past travel behaviour that can enable us to find what we are looking for quickly and easily. Which is exactly the thinking behind recent Amadeus developments such as Trusted Reviews and Featured Results.
As business travellers are particularly sensitive to how they use their time, relevant, convenient and personalised service will be key to delivering a better travel experience and maximising commercial opportunities from bleisure travel.