The long history of road warriors adding vacation days before or after a business trip, initially a response to the old airline pricing practice of marking up midweek round trips, is getting a fresh look thanks to the widespread acceptance of remote work.
High inflation that has driven airline fares up by 18% over the past year are also a big driver, according to Suzanne Neufang, CEO of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).
“If you’re already on a plane, [that’s] a huge motivation. If your basic transportation… is already covered by your employer, I think that’s a huge benefit, and a reason why business travelers are interested in this,” she says.
A 2022 survey conducted by hotel brand Crowne Plaza found that 60% plan to add leisure travel days onto future business trip itineraries. “It’s almost as if Monday is the new Sunday and Thursday is the new Friday,” says Ginger Taggart, vice president of global brand management at Crowne Plaza’s corporate parent, IHG Hotels & Resorts.
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Hotels are on board: Although vacationers are making up for lost time with abandon, the return of more-lucrative corporate bookings has been, at best, halting. The GBTA predicts that factors including persistent inflation, climbing energy prices and companies’ desire to conserve cash in the face of an economic downturn will delay until 2026 the recovery of what had been a $1.4 trillion business before the pandemic. And that is one of the more optimistic projections. “Consumer sentiment suggests a full return to pre-COVID levels of business travel may never occur,” according to an analysis by hotel data consultancy STR. .
Beleaguered hotels can make up for some of the shortfall when business travelers bring their families and spring for adjoining rooms or suites, as well as when traveling companions with nothing to do during the workday spend money at a hotel spa, golf course or casino.
Some employers haven’t warmed to the blended-travel trend, says Evan Konwiser, executive vice president of product and strategy at American Express Global Business Travel. “Having a policy denotes formal endorsement of something, and a lot of travel management teams don’t have the overhead or resources to manage an additional component,” he says.
But in spite of concerns about potential liability, expense account mismanagement, workers slacking off or some combination of all three, many employers have been eager to embrace an activity that doesn’t add to their payroll costs and is perceived as a perk by many employees. In a 2022 GBTA survey of corporate travel managers, 90% said employees were interested in combining business trips with recreational travel at their companies.
How to make the balancing act work
Blending work and play can be easier said than done—especially for business travelers whose instincts have gotten rusty. “It’s almost like a muscle people haven’t flexed in the past couple of years,” says Misty Belles, vice president of global public relations at travel agency network Virtuoso.
But with a few tips from industry pros, you can make sure that both the work and the recreation parts of your trip get the job done.
- Get the green light from your higher-ups. Combining the two is a gray area at many companies, so clear communication with your boss is key, particularly as more executives are agitating to get worker bees back into the office. “Making sure they can be productive [is] important for their own sanity, but also important to show to the company,” Konwiser says.
- Plan for disruptions. Gaming out a contingency plan with your fellow travelers beforehand is smart. Shortages of workers ranging from baggage handlers to air-traffic controllers have triggered epic logjams at airports in recent months. In the event of a canceled flight, a traveler on a bargain or frequent-flier reward ticket is apt to have more hassle getting rebooked than a business traveler whose reservation benefits from the clout of a corporate account, says Paul Tumpowsky, CEO of Virtuoso member agency Skylark Travel Group. “Be prepared … Those two people are going to get treated very differently,” he says. For business travelers whose itineraries are prone to change on short notice, he suggests looking into travel insurance that includes coverage for work-related cancellations.
- Have a place where you can get work done. Ironically, the trick to working from anywhere is making sure you have a place to get work done. Belles says many travelers bringing partners or family with them book larger rooms or suites, or stay at hotels with amenities that cater to professionals, like a business center, club floor or lounge. Your hotel lobby might be another option: Many have comfortable nooks that offer a modicum of quiet and privacy.
- Don’t forget to put relaxation on your calendar. If you’re traveling with family or friends, make a schedule and stick to those boundaries. “It’s not fair to your family when you’re saying, ‘Hey, come with me,’ and then you end up working your normal 60- or 70-hour workweek,” Neufang says. “I think the most successful blended travelers have their work and their play … It’s very clear when they can go and shut the laptop.”
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