After a few years of restricted movement, people are keen to make the most of travel opportunities — it seems even as part of their work. Employees are making the decision to enhance corporate travel opportunities with rest, relaxation, and adventure — the combination of business and leisure, also called ‘bleisure’, sets an intention for combining work and play, and has no doubt come about partly in response to Covid-19.
- The rise of bleisure travel
- Which countries are extending work trips using time off to experience a destination?
- What do flexible workers and employees want the most from corporate travel?
- Which countries are after strictly work-free vacations?
- What types of travel breaks do travelers want in 2023?
- Flexible working around the world
- The generations exploring flexible travel
The rise of bleisure: combining leisure with business travel
The US saw a dramatic shift in business travel numbers during the pandemic — the number of business travelers flying into the US from abroad went from 7 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2020, and in 2021 this number crept down to 1.1 million. However, business travel is increasing steadily again, with companies incentivising corporate trips to bring their employees together.
More than half (52%) of employers are currently planning corporate travel trips to bring together employees who now largely work remotely. In doing so they can acknowledge the importance of in-person communication, and encourage attendance by providing an appealing location. In our recent travel predictions survey, 56% of employed people agreed that the importance of face-to-face internal meetings, and meetings with clients, underline the need for business travel. But these trips also present opportunities for business travelers to act on their desires for adventure.
Through the collection of new research and surveys, Booking.com for Business is able to look more closely at the insights surrounding the rise of bleisure, and share the ways in which people are incorporating relaxation into their work commitments. One way in which business travelers around the world are looking to make the most of work trips is by extending them to add time for leisure.
Which countries are extending work trips using time off to experience a destination?
Business travelers from around the world were asked in both 2021 and 2022 in regards to the year ahead, whether or not they would use holiday time to extend a work trip, in order to make the most of their time away and be able to explore a destination at their leisure. Enthusiasm for this idea shifted over the course of 12 months, increasing on average 9% globally in our 2023 Travel Predictions report compared to our 2022 Travel Predictions report.
Looking at country-specific splits could suggest where we are set to experience an increase (or decrease) in business travel, and bleisure. It is apparent that workers’ willingness to have bleisure trips is increasing, with travelers wanting to take some truly disconnected time off, as shown through the 19% increase in business travelers globally wanting their vacations to be completely work-free. Perhaps one way of achieving this is by extending work trips to include time off.
The US however, was one of the few countries surveyed that saw a decrease, with 3% less people planning to extend their trips this way. This puts them in the minority, as the majority of countries surveyed saw at least a small increase. However, this could simply be related to limited annual leave, or less flexibility at work, and not truly reflect employees’ desires. The US is the country with the second to least amount of paid vacation in the world, with an average of only 10 paid vacation days a year.
New Zealand saw the biggest increase (159%) in people that plan to extend their business trips to experience a destination more, using their time off in 2023 versus 2022. Followed by Argentina with a 136% increase, and Australia, with a 48% increase in people who plan to use holiday to their advantage in this way while traveling for work.
Interestingly the UK’s stance changed the least, with the exact same percentage of people responding positively to the suggestion of extending work trips with holiday to truly experience a destination in both 2022 and 2023. These results could be due to the UK being one of the countries that least expect to fully return to business travel at pre-pandemic levels. Research from Consultancy UK suggests that 55% of UK workers who regularly went on three or more business trips pre-pandemic never expect to take one again.
But for those who are choosing to return to business travel and looking to combine it with leisure, there are a variety of different ways in which they can make the most of their time away from home.
What do business travelers want the most from corporate travel and combining this with leisure?
Corporate travel and flexible working present a variety of advantageous opportunities for travelers, such as having the ability to extend work trips to truly experience a destination and being able to visit attractions at optimal times. When surveyed to see what employees want the most from corporate travel, there are notable trends in the responses of employed people and specifically flexible workers.
While the highest percentage of all employed people agreed that traveling and exploring new places inspired them to be more productive with their work (59%), less than half of flexible workers (47%) felt the same way. Depending on the worker, productivity doesn’t necessarily rely on this sort of outward stimulation, more so the flexibility to choose how they work. This ability of being able to choose can benefit productivity for every type of business traveler.
Just under half (47%) of employed people would be interested in booking accommodation with co-working space, with 55% of flexible workers also citing this as something they would do. This way, they’re setting themselves up to be able to work comfortably in their chosen accommodation, and using working spaces as a way to define where to work, and where to play. For example, working in a hotel room or public space might blur the lines of when they can relax and when they should focus — but a workspace has one clear purpose. With these lines drawn, business travelers can then focus on using their time effectively — such as visiting attractions outside of peak hours.
In general, business travelers seem to want the freedom to incorporate their own desires into corporate travel — be that a desire for inspiration, being able to avoid the crowds, or to take the chance to really appreciate a country they might not have visited otherwise. This freedom also includes the ability to keep work and play separate, should they choose to.
Which countries are after strictly work-free vacations?
While bleisure might be seen as convenient for some, there are business travelers who want their downtime to be work-free. When employees were asked if they want their vacations to be strictly work-free in both our 2022 and 2023 reports, there were some interesting variations in responses from different countries, with an overall average percentage increase of 19% across all countries in 2023.
New Zealand’s workforce once again had the most dramatic change in opinion between 2022 and 2023, with 218% more people agreeing that they want a vacation completely free of work responsibilities. Argentina also saw a significant increase of 154%, but after that, the numbers drop dramatically. Only 7% more people from the US agree that work and vacation should be entirely separate. Combining this figure with the previously mentioned statistic of fewer US workers looking to extend their work trips for leisure purposes, could show a desire to be able to commit to both work and leisure at the same time, without the need for separation.
At the other end of the spectrum, Hong Kong saw a drop of -132% agreement from 2022 to 2023 — far fewer people wanting to separate vacation and work entirely. Could this be due to the desire to work remotely driving people to compromise on their availability, trading in time spent totally logged off in favor of more flexibility?
While this may be true for some employees, the data has shown that there are many who will use the freedom of flexible working to spend their downtime well and truly away from work, and wisely. For example, the crowding at tourist attractions can be one of the most off-putting factors when traveling — especially post-pandemic when people are more conscious of personal space than ever before. This might be why 65% of flexible workers from the US intend to use their flexible working abilities as a chance to visit tourist attractions when they’re more likely to be quiet.
But not all employees are seeking out tourist traps for their travel breaks. We have also taken a look at what kind of getaways workers are interested in — a high percentage of which aim to take them off the beaten track.
What types of travel breaks do workers want in 2023?
Both flexible and non-flexible workers were asked what sort of traveling they want to do in 2023. The most popular suggestion among all respondents was to visit sentimental locations, seeking the nostalgia factor of places that are important to them — 90% of employed people like this suggestion. This connection between travel and emotions could be explained by people wanting their breaks to take them to a different place mentally, not just physically. This is the type of escape possible with bleisure, where attention can be divided between work and relaxation with the help of a specific location.
The number of people seeking breaks that take them outside of their comfort zone is high — 78% of employed people are looking for this sort of travel, with 74% specifically wanting adventurous backpacking. So often business travel focuses on conferences and meetings within the confines of one hotel — this desire for adventure could be the way to balance this out. Combining this style of travel with working, in other words, bleisure, would give employees a way of seeing more of the country they’re visiting, and satisfy their need for escape.
This need for adventure is likely due to people looking to embrace their ability to see the world in whichever way they choose, following a few years of restrictions and pandemic-forced perspective. These varied desires express a need for flexibility and freedom of choice — something that people want not just from leisure, but also in business. This includes the freedom to combine traveling for both work and play — something that is possible thanks to flexible and remote working.
Flexible working and working remotely around the world
With remote work on the rise, we can expect to see people embracing their newfound flexibility in multiple ways. While for some, working remotely from a cafe may feel adventurous enough, others may choose to take their work on the road and truly lean into the freedom of being able to work from any location.
Flexible and remote working is already commonplace for many people around the world, and for a number of countries is now the norm for the majority of workers. The US is on the tipping point with 50% of employees being able to work flexibly or remotely, though in some states such as Maryland and Nevada, Google monthly searches show that the desire for remote jobs outweighs the opportunities available. As China and India show, there is potential for an even bigger shift to this way of working — though it was the pandemic that gave this change its momentum.
The data suggests that, in general, more US workers are able to work remotely than those in Europe, as the European countries surveyed reported lower percentages across the board. This is in spite of the fact that the number of remote workers in Europe is rising, and is predicted to continue doing so. Italy has the fewest number of employees currently able to work this way — their percentage is less than half of that of the three leading countries. This could reflect a limited availability of flexible and remote work opportunities.
In a recent report by Zippia, the average length for an international business trip is 5-6 days — could the desire for bleisure, and rise in flexible and remote working, mean that this number is set to increase? The same report also found that at least 50% of business travelers are aged between 35-54 — but is this also representative of the current generations embracing flexible working?
The generations embracing flexible working
When it comes to who is embracing flexible and remote working, it is the Millenials and Gen X workers who are leading the charge. This is significant because the 25-56 year olds that are included in these brackets make up the bulk of the workforce, and therefore have the biggest impact on trends in corporate travel for employers to then accommodate.
As part of a recent survey, respondents from all countries were asked if they’re able to work remotely without their physical location being an issue. Millennials (25-40 year-olds) are the generation who agree the most (68%), with Gen Xers (41-56 year-olds) not too far behind (54%).
The average age of someone in employment is currently 42, making older millennials and young Gen Xers the majority of the workforce. This availability of remote working expressed by millennials and Gen X could represent the average employee looking to leave the office and use their newfound flexibility to help fulfill long-time travel dreams.
Gen Z (18-24 year-olds) are currently more likely to look for in-person work than their older counterparts, with less than half (48%) currently working remotely. This could be due to Gen Z wanting more social interaction from their jobs, and not yet having a rounded opinion of what they need from a work environment — whereas older generations are already confident in making their need for freedom and flexibility known. For Millennials and Generation X, their enthusiasm for flexible and remote work could drive a rise in the length of business trips, and the embracing of bleisure.
Bleisure has been made possible through the rise of remote working, with upwards of 50% of workers falling into this category depending on the country. The adoption of this way of working has been strongest in the largest demographic of workers — the 25 to 56 year olds. If the majority of a company’s employees aren’t already engaged remotely or flexibly, they could well be soon.
When it comes to business travel, workers want to be able to really experience the destination they have traveled to, whether that means extending their business trip to incorporate some leisure time, or incorporating local experiences into their work day.
For business travelers, bleisure is about making the most of the freedom of flexible working and using it to the advantage of their travel plans. It means business travelers get to enhance their work experience with leisure, and employers get to reward their employees by making sure that business travel isn’t all hard work, and allow them to fulfill travel desires that may have previously been unattainable.
The rising rates of business travel, accompanied by the growth of flexible and remote working, creates an environment in which bleisure can flourish. This ability to combine work, travel, and recreation will likely be a benefit to both employees and employers, and could even result in greater productivity and job satisfaction.
Travel Predictions 2023 research was commissioned by Booking.com and conducted among a sample of adults who plan to travel for business or leisure in the next 12-24 months. In total, 24,179 respondents across 32 countries and territories were polled (including 1,014 from Argentina, 1,006 from Australia, 505 from Austria, 504 from Belgium, 1,009 from Brazil, 503 from Canada, 1,009 from China, 1,010 from Colombia, 505 from Croatia, 505 from Denmark, 1,010 from France, 1,001 from Germany, 500 from Hong Kong, 1,005 from India, 504 from Ireland, 504 from Israel, 1,008 from Italy, 1,003 from Japan, 504 from Mexico, 502 from The Netherlands, 1,007 from New Zealand, 1009 from Portugal, 507 from Singapore, 1,008 from South Korea, 1,001 from Spain, 505 from Sweden, 508 from Switzerland, 500 from Taiwan, 504 from Thailand, 1006 from the UK, 1,009 from the US and 504 from Vietnam). Respondents completed an online survey in August 2022.
Booking.com for Business then analyzed the questions and responses from employed and flexible workers to gather these business travel predictions. All wording with regards to employed people and flexible workers has been taken directly from the survey.
Additional third-party data has been incorporated to highlight the highest searches for remote jobs in each US state per 100,000 labor force rates and the business travel volume in the US. Sources are included below.
- Statista.com: State-level labor force figures in 2021
- Statista.com: Highest-priced US business travel destinations
- Statista.com: Business travel volumes 2011 - 2021
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Average age of someone in the workforce
- Computerworld.com: Gen Z looking for in-person work
- Coresignal.com: Remote working trends during Covid
- Euronews.com: Remote work rising in Europe and the EU
- Mercer.com: Average business trip length in 2018
- The rise of bleisure: Booking.com for Business report