Get In the Business of Business Travel

As someone that spends about 50-60% of my life on the road, there are a couple of misperceptions I’d like to address. First, business travel isn’t glamorous - it is very long days, living out of a suitcase, struggling to remember what timezone you’re in and fighting over available power outlets at the airport. To make up for these inconveniences, many business travelers are carving out a few minutes in their trips to experience the local scene and find a few minutes of relaxation. Hence the evolution of bleisure travel.

This idea of bleisure squashes the second misperception that business travelers aren’t as attractive as leisure travelers. Business travelers are tourists. And they spend money in your hotels and restaurants just like leisure travelers. According to a study by U.S. Travel Association, in 2016, direct spending on business travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $307.2 billion.

The challenge is many business travelers are less prepared for filling in open windows of time. This isn’t a vacation they planned for months but instead the location was likely determined by a conference or key client meeting. They probably bought a last minute ticket, and didn’t give the trip a second thought until they were boarding the plane.

This is an opportunity for destinations and hotels to do what they do best: be the local experts and highlight things to do. Frequent business traveler, Tushar Jansen, mentioned he finds reviews on Google and Yelp, but it doesn’t uncover all the hidden gems. “It would be nice to have an insider’s city guide.”

Similarly, Whitney Wilson, responded saying, “I usually ask co-workers or check online, but it would be amazing if there were city guides for business travelers to learn about local places to see that are open after 6 p.m.” That’s your cue DMOs!

What can DMOs offer bleisure travelers? It’s unlikely it can be full-day itineraries, but instead if you have a couple of hours to spend in our city here’s what you must do - think Anthony Bourdain’s Layover show concept. This can be a combination of dining, walks, views, landmarks and attractions. When a conference is coming to town, work with the meeting organizers to highlight these key must-do’s in a series of emails and even collateral in the welcome bags or registration tables. Chances are, you competitively bid to win this conference to happen in your destination, and part of your sales pitch was about the destination itself - accommodations, things to do, dining, etc. So live up to your promotion. Let these business travelers know you’re happy they are in town! The immediate benefit is people may take you up on the suggestion and spend money today. The long-tail game is they may love the small taste of your destination and come back as a tourist and spend the week with their families, friends and loved ones in your destination and hotels.

For example, while recently traveling to Norfolk, Virginia, I picked up a brochure about the public art installations all within walking distance of my hotel - the perfect hour excursion to clear my head, and yet take in some of the unique aspects of the city. But if I hadn’t picked up that brochure it would be very easy to just go my hotel room and lock myself in for the evening vs. experiencing Virginia is for Art Lovers.

Several business travelers that I interviewed for this article shared in my interest in bleisure travel. All of them said they’ve gone back to a destination they visited for business travel, and better yet, took photos while they were there and shared them with friends and family.

Road warrior, Brian White, mentioned he’s taken his family to Israel and the UK after business trips to these locations with more vacations planned. “We’ll be going to Japan for family vacation after I’ve been there a handful of times for work. When on the road, I take some time to drive around and explore or pick off 4-5 things to quickly see and post on Facebook.”

Wilson went on to say, “I absolutely go back to visit places I’ve visited for work. Often you only get the opportunity to skim the surface and some locations call for a return. I often recommend places to friends and family.”

And if you’re one of the meeting planners, book tours and dining excursions as part of the conference. This is one of the advantages of going to travel conferences - they’ll often mix in a half-day of volunteering in the city, private tours to openings of new venues or schedule multiple restaurants to accommodate dinner for attendees. This gets me out into the community as part of my business trip. No guilt there - it’s for work!

If you’re a hotel, think about what activities and restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel, as many business travelers don’t rent cars or would just prefer not to drive in a strange city. Partner with your destination on the things your guests can do. One suggestion: partner with local wineries and retailers to bring some of the activities into your lobby - you’ll attract both leisure and bleisure travelers with this approach. Bottom line - be a knowledgeable and helpful resource. If you do, the next time they’re in town they’ll remember this extra touch and stay with you again.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of your amenities. When I’m on the road things like dry cleaning and a gym are of critical importance. Sitting on a plane for 8 hours means I’m overdue for a massage. Suggest these items at check-in, offer to schedule it at time that is convenient, and potentially in-room to increase the ease for them to say yes. If you make it easy for the business traveler to take advantage of your services, it’s likely they will.