“These are unprecedented times,” says Aurélie Krau, “but I believe we are going to see a shift: As a result of this crisis, more organizations will realize that work can be done from anywhere. This will open the door for more productive conversations in the future. We might see ‘Bleisure’ even more often.”
Across the world, blaring headlines make the present crisis in aviation clear: U.S. airlines are preparing to essentially shut down even domestic service. Many carriers around the world are focusing all flight operations on repatriation.
For an unknown period of time, non-essential travel will be on pause in the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis. But when it resumes, what recently documented trends might be able to tell us something about how the industry may move forward?
Here’s an interesting one: Up until a few weeks ago, an estimated 60 percent of business trips were extended for leisure travel, according to research from Expedia. This statistic indicates how the increased capacity for remote work and greater global mobility have led to a blurring of the lines between work and play.
In “normal” travel times, these “Bleisure” travelers have started to represent a huge market for the airline and hospitality industries, who have the opportunity to win more business from customers who may be looking for compelling reasons to extend their trips — and inspiration for activities to undertake once they get there.
There are so many unknowns in terms of what the landscape will look like when travel ultimately resumes. But is this increase in remote work, and the blurring of the lines between work and recreation, a trend that’s likely to accelerate as a result of the “work from home” mandates we see across the world today?
“My assumption is that, as a result of the present crisis, more organizations will indeed realize that work can be done from anywhere, and that flexibility pays off – providing you have the right infrastructure. That naturally lends itself to more Bleisure travel opportunities,” explains Aurélie Krau, a consultant for Festive Road, who leverages her background at American Express Travel and the Global Business Travel Association as a speaker specializing in Bleisure and NextGen (Millennials & GenZ) travel. “I think we may see a huge opportunity in this space when our present crisis passes.”
Kambr Media: Before we get started, I just want to acknowledge that these are difficult and unprecedented times in which to be having a conversation related to leisure travel at all. How are you feeling?
Aurélie Krau: For certain. It’s a challenge; things are crazy, and we just want everyone to be safe. These are unusual times to even be talking about something like the intersection of business and leisure travel. But I do think there’s a space where we need to focus on the future, too. So, for today, let’s take a pause and have that conversation.
So, how do you define “Bleisure” for the purposes of this conversation?
A Bleisure traveler is purely a business traveler who would like to make the most of a business trip to explore the destination they're visiting for business purposes. It can be half a day, two hours, a weekend, and you know what? I think that's pretty realistic. To a certain extent, everybody tries to be a Bleisure traveler. Even if you only have two, three, four hours, you might say, "Ooh, I see an amazing rooftop restaurant over there. I want to go there. I want to get a glimpse of the city that I'm visiting," because, let's be honest, seeing the airports, your taxi, and the four walls of your meeting room is not very exciting.
If you are a food lover, you just want to go and taste the specialty; you may be [influenced by] content related to great restaurants or unique cuisine in the area you’re visiting. If you're a museum lover, you might want to just make two or three hours, just to go to that museum or to see an exhibition. These are just random examples, but to a certain extent, I believe everybody tries to do that, if you can. Of course. And this type of travel mindset has meaning for airlines and hospitality, of course.
Business and leisure travel is completely on pause in our present moment — indefinitely. After this present crisis passes, and travel restrictions slowly begin to lift, do you think this kind of combined travel will come back? Will it be redefined in any way?
These are unprecedented times. I myself recently returned from South America mid-February after 10 weeks working remotely, and I honestly didn’t expect things to escalate so quickly in Europe. Now, I’m sure we all feel the same. I’m French, so we are now in total confinement, along with several of our fellow European countries as of the time of this conversation. Travel is on pause right now for very obvious reasons: We need to protect ourselves and others, we need to support people working in health care.
But, a very important point in regards to travel, or the idea that “travel is dead”: Travelers may not be planning business trips at the moment, but don’t forget about all of the teams working so hard to support travelers right now who are stuck somewhere or wanting to reach their home country. There is such a solidarity and it’s in these times more than ever that we need to support travel suppliers.
In that context, Bleisure sounds obviously very fancy as we speak, but it is far from being dead. This is a temporary situation. I can say with 100 percent certainty people will never stop traveling. So, without any doubt, yes, Bleisure, and travel in general, will come back. People who are in confinement right now will have time to think of their life goals, of their aspirations, and this will create some need to travel once it gets back to normal.
How will things change? Well, in France and all over the world, most governments are strongly encouraging organizations to facilitate a “work from home” policy. Some were not ready. My assumption is that, as a result of the present crisis, more organizations will realize that work can be done from anywhere, providing you have the right infrastructure. This will open the doors for more constructive conversations in the near future, especially for employees who have that wanderlust love. This means we might see Bleisure even more often. All of us have been impacted by this situation, and I see companies eventually re-thinking the core basis of their organizations, putting employees — the human element — in the center.
As some types of workers may have more flexibility and more remote work options, that could lead to business and leisure trips as a more accepted part of the worker lifestyle.
Outside of the world’s present struggles with COVID-19, what are the larger cultural and market factors that have led to an increased focus on business and leisure travel?
The first one is Traveler Wellness. We have seen a cultural focus on wellness and self-care, and that’s been [a part of creating] the trend toward Employee Wellness in general, in some industries: Allowing workers more flexible arrangements, allowing Bleisure. Long haul flights, for example, it does not make sense to fly from New York to Singapore for a day.
So, allowing Bleisure, allowing down-time, it's a way for organizations to say, "Okay, take time to just relax a little bit. Navigate the time difference, so you're not completely [messed up] when you're back at the office." It’s really part of that care and employee wellbeing, in general.
The second part is this huge movement of digital remote work/influence, which I believe, as I said, will be accelerated by the work adjustments put in place in response to COVID-19. Today, we’re increasingly seeing how many people can work from anywhere, and I believe that’s a factor.
You need a strategy, you need the right tools, of course, but remote work, when it’s done right, really works in a lot of cases. All of that makes Bleisure travel more possible.
What do you think will be lost — and gained — by this current crisis?
In terms of gained, absolutely my previous answer about working from home — I think we’re going to see how much flexibility there really is.
In terms of lost, obviously everyone will need to recover, because their core activity will have been impacted.
Even outside travel, we don’t yet know which brands, which businesses will come back from this — or when.
Exactly. But the bright side: It’s everybody’s case, we’re all together in this. So maybe with this massive challenge comes a massive opportunity to better work all together and stand up as an industry to rebuild things.
Can you share any examples of carriers who have thus far succeeded in terms of reaching and inspiring the business and leisure traveler? What opportunities do they have going forward — what can we look forward to — once travel begins to resume?
One thing we have seen recently are airlines that offer free stopovers, like Turkish Airlines in Istanbul as just one example. This might appeal to a variety of travelers, but I think it’s particularly interesting for Bleisure travelers, who might be looking to add a day or two in another city on their way to or from a business destination. I expect we may see more of [an effort] to promote this. But in terms of explicitly Bleisure-focused initiatives specifically, not really — not yet.
But I believe there will be a huge opportunity to work all together, because of course, the interest of an airline is to create some brand affinity. The problem is, for example, I'm based in Paris. So, I fly a lot with Air France, but I also fly other lines, Turkish Airlines, local carriers, EasyJet quite a lot. I think driving loyalty from business travelers — through giving guidance or opportunities to Bleisure travelers — is an interesting possibility. Because in terms of loyalty, I expounded on this point in an earlier interview, but airlines’ frequent travel programs are often not really fitted for the frequent traveler. It’s for the “I pay the most, therefore I earn more points” traveler.
So, once our present crisis beings to recede, I do believe that there will be opportunity for airlines to think about the global value that they can bring back for Bleisure travelers — as well as an opportunity for each business travel manager to work a little bit more closely with airlines and really create something here.
This is a strange moment, but it’s also a quiet one. Maybe this will be a time to really pause and think about initiatives that will lift and inspire – including inspiring that traveler wanderlust when the time is right.