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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Bleisure - Playing away

IF A YOUNG EXECUTIVE HAS TO FLY TO CAPE TOWN FOR 24 HOURS to attend a conference and they’ve never been to Africa, there’s a good chance they’ll ask if they can take a day off to break up the journey, recuperate and explore the city. When this happens they’ve moved into that bleisure twilight zone that can raise alarm bells with managers back home.

Mixing a spot of business and leisure has been around since the dawn of corporate travel and, in some cases, is actively encouraged – particularly in recent times when air ticket prices can vary so tremendously.

“We had to fly a film crew to Singapore at short notice,” says one travel buyer from ITV Studios. “The return flights were excessively expensive, so we encouraged the team to stay on until the weekend and take some time off – we paid for the hotel, it was still a lot cheaper than flying them back sooner.”

In a recent study by American Express GBT, managers reported a 70 per cent year-on-year increase in enquiries about combining business and leisure. And ATPI managing director Adam Knights says: “The younger generation are also sharing photos and posts on social media so the practice is becoming more obvious.”

The rise of companies from the sharing economy, such as Airbnb, have also helped blur the lines, enabling travellers to rent apartments for corporate travel that were traditionally used for leisure. A 2015 Barclaycard report called these changes “the leisure effect,” where habits gleaned from a holiday, and a desire for a more customised experience, now blend into the professional sphere.

THE LEISURE EFFECT

Executive travellers now seek a better work-life balance. A recent study conducted by ACTE entitled Meet the Modern Business Traveller, found that almost half (48 per cent) of travel managers have seen an increase in travellers’ work-life balance concerns. There’s also a raised interest in flexible working, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of travel managers receiving more enquiries about extra holiday as compensation for time spent away from home.

For millennials in particular, who are accustomed to a digital lifestyle and making connections with people from different cultures, the distinction between work and play is becoming a lot more fluid. “Their desire to make business travel a more personal and experimental experience is a growing trend,” explains Randall Gordon-Duff, head of product – corporate travel at travel services company Collinson Group.

So yes there’s an issue, especially among the rising 20- to 30-something executives in the global workforce – addressing it is the next phase.

Analysis among industry sources suggests that it needs to be dealt with head on and not swept beneath the corporate carpet. Removing any grey areas and providing clarity for both the employer and the employee benefits everyone.

“Feedback from our members indicates that most companies do not yet have specific guidance as part of their travel programme,” says Sandy Moring, director of education at the Institute of Travel Management. “The discussion around bleisure is growing, although it’s still a grey area when it comes to risk management.”

FIGHT BLEISURE WITH POLICY

It all comes down to policy. If you haven’t started defining bleisure within your travel documentation, it’s worth doing so now. This should include how leisure time is classified and any limitations around this. It requires careful thought of every scenario and any compliance issues.

Despite 89 per cent of companies allowing bleisure travel, almost a third (31 per cent) do not extend the protection offered by their corporate travel risk policy to cover additional leisure days, according to a survey by Collinson Group.

“The findings raise concerns that employers may not be making it clear to bleisure travellers where the company policy extends or not in terms of coverage or duty-of-care,” says Gordon-Duff. “Our research shows that a significant number of staff are potentially under-insured and under protected. This lack of cover is alarming.”

The fear is that staff could be spending leisure time abroad under the misguided belief that they’re protected. “We must make sure the lines are drawn and be clear about this,” says Paul Wait, CEO of the GTMC. “But we should encourage bleisure, since the driver will be demographics and the rise of the younger executive.”

For instance, does the corporation have a duty-of-care if the executive on the aforementioned business trip to Cape Town gets mugged on the extra leisure day he requested? “The terms of a company’s travel insurance could mean the employee is responsible for their own cover on the leisure part of a trip,” says Tony McGetrick, director of marketing at BCD Travel.

However, others in the industry think differently: “We would suggest that if the bulk of the trip is for business purposes, with a small proportion of leisure, and the company is paying for the air tickets and potentially the hotels if staying Saturday night in order to get cheaper business flights, then the employer needs to take steps to mitigate the leisure [element],” explains ATPI’s Knights.

Since there are differing views, it’s crucial to detail all scenarios in a travel policy. The extent of legal responsibility depends on each employer’s policy. “There certainly needs to be an auditable sign-off for additional leisure days,” states Nigel Turner, senior director of programme management at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

Companies should also review their travel insurance documents to clarify what is and isn’t included. Many companies now offer insurance that will cover individuals’ business and leisure travel. Those responsible for international trips certainly need to talk to their insurer or broker about this and modify their policies accordingly.

Usually, employees will only be covered for travel that does not represent a significant departure from their original itinerary. They might not be covered for potentially dangerous activities, such as skiing or scuba diving, or entry into certain bordering countries.

TRANSPARENCY IS CRUCIAL

Travel management companies can provide their experience and expertise on how to best manage bleisure travel and help companies tailor travel policies to accommodate specific needs.

However, if there are any potential grey areas these need spelling out. “It’s then a question of effectively engaging with employees to communicate with them regarding the detail, so that it’s clearly understood by all parties,” states McGetrick.

Ensuring all travellers book through a corporate booking tool or through a TMC for an extra hotel leisure night perhaps can certainly enable greater visibility, tracking and help avoid some liability issues.

“At the end of the day transparency is key, so stay well-informed. The more information buyers have at their fingertips, the better equipped they’ll be to deal with any issues that arise,” says Jason Geall, vice-president for northern Europe at Amex. “As long as the policy is clear on its position, employees are more likely to be compliant, meaning fewer pain points for travel managers.”

Compliance issues of a more personal nature are also raised with bleisure trips. With normal business travel, flexibility is a key factor since timings can change like the wind. If you bolt a leisure element on, especially if it involves family or a partner, then travel managers can be tied in to a specific itinerary. This can lead to punitive charges and cancellation fees, leaving everyone a bit disgruntled.

REWARDING STAFF

However, allowing executives to take additional leisure days can be a great way for firms to reward staff. It can also be seen as the hallmark of a successful, progressive, staff-friendly business – flexibility being the key word here.

“We should be thinking about all the benefits and not the risks. Risks can be mitigated. There is an opportunity here both for the travel trade who should get behind this and a new generation of businesses with a global entrepreneurial mindset who will generate demand for bleisure,” suggests Wait.

Just because staff aren’t officially working, doesn’t mean they cannot remain under a firm’s duty-of-care. Employees and employers can derive wider benefits from a 21st-century bleisure experience. It just takes a progressive mindset, weighing up the costs of extending insurance, the duty-of-care to the leisure element and whether it provides enough benefit to the employee-employer relationship.

Read top tips for buyers on 'bleisure'

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