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Remote Work Policies Are Changing Leisure Travel

Annie Erling Gofus - Mar 29 2022
Published in: Mobility
Business and leisure travel is blending in 2022 for longer, more frequent trips

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many of the world’s biggest industries, but the travel industry has inarguably been one of the hardest hit. For both leisure and business trips, travel priorities have changed, making a significant impact on airlines and hospitality businesses.

Some in the industry believe that the pandemic is the most transformative thing to happen to the travel industry since the advent of commercial air travel. One global change that has had a significant impact on travel is the rise of the ability to work from anywhere.

The ability to work remotely has the potential to permanently change the way people travel. As long as workers are meeting deadlines, relaxed office policies make it possible to travel even mid-week. Flexible work arrangements have made it easier for people to travel more frequently and for more extended periods.

In early 2021, vaccines became more widely available, and many work-from-home policies were still in place, which triggered a desire to travel to warmer, far-flung destinations. 

For remote workers based in Europe, many flew to warmer climates in Dubai, Spain, and the Maldives. Remote workers in America have easy access to tropical destinations like Hawaii, Mexico, and many islands in the Caribbean. These work vacations can last weeks or even months as long as the locale boasts strong Wi-Fi.

Travel industry insiders are calling this idea of mixing work and travel “bleisure,” which is a combination of business and leisure travel. Travel trade publication Skift believes that the continuation of remote work and the rise of bleisure travel are the greatest change-makers in travel for 2022. 

Business and leisure travel will blend in 2022

According to a 2022 travel industry outlook from Deloitte, people on working vacations plan to travel twice as often in 2022 as travelers who planned to unplug while on vacation (called “disconnectors” by Deloitte). Deloitte calls bleisure travelers “laptop luggers” and says they will take two or four trips in a year, compared to the one or two trips planned by the disconnectors.

Workers with extended work-from-home policies tended to have fared a bit better financially during the pandemic to increase their travel budgets. These same travelers are liberated from an office, giving them the freedom to book longer trips more often.

In the past, hotels and destinations have become reliant on busy high seasons where the number of travelers peaks. These high seasons usually coincide with traditional, convenient times to travel, like summer breaks from school and the time between Christmas and the New Year.

The rise of bleisure may distribute tourists throughout the year, benefiting the tourism industry and creating a less crowded experience for tourists. 

In addition to vacations popping up across the calendar year, trips are also getting longer. Airbnb shared that in the third quarter of 2021, almost half of the nights booked on its platform were for stays of longer than seven days. One out of every five nights booked was for 28 days or longer stays.

Data from the vacation property management platform Guesty shows that 14-plus-day bookings grew 33% in 2021, with a cumulative increase of 121% since 2019.

Business travel has become less common since 2020, but it has not disappeared entirely. As teams have become more distributed, the need to bring colleagues together for occasional in-person meetings has increased. 

The Great Resignation has brought company culture into the spotlight. There is a new expectation for these team gatherings to be fun, team-building events. Sometimes in-person events occur at the company’s headquarters or in a hybrid fashion, but more companies are splashing out on big getaways

Called the “great reconnection” by some, it’s a push to bring colleagues together and inject joy into the work experience. Retreat-planning companies such as Troop and NextRetreat are among the travel industry startups leading the work retreat space. And Salesforce.com Inc.’s Marc Benioff is even considering building a ranch-style resort for employees where in-person team-building and training can take place and feel like a vacation. Managers are working to reduce burnout and resignations, so these in-person events will have a dual purpose of accomplishing work goals and making workers feel like valued members of the team.

Although the future of business travel is still in flux, especially as many companies continue to evaluate their work-from-home policies, many can expect more work trips in 2022. Most of these trips will likely be quarterly visits to company headquarters, but some expect to see more fun and unique off-site events that bring colleagues together.

Hotels are evolving to meet remote workers’ needs

Accommodations — from hotels to home rentals — are evolving to meet the needs of laptop luggers. For those taking a working vacation, home rentals offer the space to spread out and to separate work from play.

Hotels are fighting to attract these same travelers. The hotel chain Citizen M created a membership program that provides fixed nightly rates and discounts on food and beverage when digital nomads commit to a month-long stay. The membership fees are approximately $1,500 a month, which is a steal in markets like New York and Paris.

Hoxton hotels offer special rates for commuters who need an overnight stay close to their office, and a number of hotels — including the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C. — are offering day rates for remote workers who want a temporary change of scenery.

Across the industry, hotels are upgrading their dated business centers and adding a more comprehensive array of office supplies (and printing services) to the standard in-room desk, and strong, reliable Wi-Fi is now a must-have amenity. Some hotels are going a step further and adding fitness equipment and nursery gear to their in-room offers. Hotel developers are even looking into the future and building new hotels that feature spacious suites.

Blended travel benefits the travel industry, and it makes travel more flexible for workers, but there is one possible downside: fewer opportunities to unplug and unwind while on vacation. Despite this, laptop luggers should not count on getting a reservation. Pent-up demand for traveling freely again, or as freely as can be under COVID restrictions, has resulted in an increase in “revenge travel.”