Business trips where delegates are encouraged to take their partners and family is a fast-emerging trend, and an increasingly prevalent one in the MICE space.

By Sheriden Rhodes

It’s been happening unofficially for years now – wives, partners and sometimes the entire family tagging along on business trips. The rise of the so called ‘bleasure’ traveller – the blurring of pleasure with business – is becoming increasingly prevalent in the MICE space, according to industry experts at a recent roundtable event looking at trends across the Asia Pacific.

In a bid to provide a more rewarding experience and build a highly motivated loyal workforce, corporate clients are actively encouraging delegates to bring their family and loved ones and either participate in the event or extend their stay. In addition, leisure activities are increasingly being added into what has been traditionally business-focused meetings, the roundtable heard.

Industry experts say it’s well documented that the bleasure trend is intensifying largely because the expectations of business travellers has evolved. There’s a greater emphasis on incorporating leisure activities into work trips while people in general are seeking more work-life balance. Travel in itself, the roundtable heard, is no longer seen as the incentive it once was because so many people travel for work these days.

“Whether it’s multi-national companies introducing more flexible work hours or governments extending leave entitlements to be more family friendly, work life balance is an increasingly important issue as the lines between work and life becomes increasingly blurred,” said Andre Gomez, general manager of Hilton Phuket Resort and Spa, which organised the roundtable.

“For the road warrior, it doesn’t matter if his office is in the car, a plane, a hotel, in his own country or overseas. That’s what’s driving the bleasure trend in the MICE sector.”
James Drysdale, group director of Australian-based PCO Inspired Event Travel, said increasingly corporate clients are actively encouraging delegates to bring their families and extend their stay to get more mileage from their dollar and build employee loyalty.

“They either come a few days early or leave a few days later and use the opportunity for a personal holiday,” he said.

In addition, he said partners and families were increasingly being invited to attend specific social parts of the conference or event, be it a gala dinner, a day trip or team-building activity.
Conferences and incentives that involved partners appeared to be more successful than those that didn’t and increasingly corporates were including this as an option, Drysdale said. “If the objective is for delegates to have fun, and feel they are working for a great organisation, then our clients are more likely to achieve their goal if partners are involved. We see that the concept of bleasure actually works.”

Recent research found that one in three UK employees are now inviting partners and families along on their business trip so they can enjoy an extended weekend break and quality time together. According to the research by Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa, compiled in association with Judith Chalmers, employees are increasingly trying to combine work and family time rather than dreading the time spent away from their homes and families. The study found that more than half (52 per cent) of the UK workforce is travelling on business more now than they did five years ago, meaning a growing demand to do more than just work on business trips.

“There’s enough data out there to show the benefits of businesses and organisations having a great work-life balance when it comes to increased productivity, better employee health, lower employee turnover and increased job satisfaction,” Gomez said.

Bleasure meanwhile can take many forms: whether it’s a business traveller arriving early or extending their stay at an offsite conference, a family or partner accompanying a business traveller on a work trip, a PCO building in significant downtime, wellness treatments or leisure activities into a conference schedule, or an event planner choosing a tropical resort destination over a city.

Industry experts agreed that bleasure was not about pampering delegates who want to get out of real work.

“You really do get more out of your team members if they’re more engaged, satisfied and happy. That’s ultimately what bleasure is all about,” Gomez said.

Hilton Phuket director of business development Jeroen Meijer added there was also a shift towards more informal set-ups and reduced meeting times in a bid to add a work-life balance to the meeting and event itself, while the resort had seen a marked increase in requests for on and offsite partner programs.

“Increasingly we’re seeing clients request rooms set up with bean bags and couches rather than theatre or cabaret-style, while there’s a move away from all-day meetings – making the whole package more attractive for delegates and increasing productivity by keeping attendees engaged,” he said.

Meijer said IT and fashion were two sectors keen to embrace the bleasure trend, while long haul markets like Australia and Europe were more likely to include family and partners for the duration of a conference or incentive.

Drysdale cited an Australian company from the building sector which recently held an event where families were invited to attend the event in Thailand as an example.
“The families were involved in the evening social events and daily activities such as island day trips. Given there were upwards of 70 children at the evening events, special consideration was given to their menu selection and an area at the event for the kids.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association and Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort and Spa have identified bleasure as a global trend and one they’re keen to capitalise on. Thailand and Phuket in particular is well placed to take advantage of the “bleasure” trend, said Pornthip Hirunkate, secretary-general of Thailand Incentive and Convention Association. Phuket is the same size as Singapore, has terrific air access and is ranked second in terms of revenue from MICE revenue behind Bangkok, she said.

“Its diverse facilities mean delegates can be in a meeting while partners and family can be enjoying attractions such as elephant treks, trips to Phi Phi Island, cooking classes, shopping, meditation and spa, making it a key `bleasure’ destination.”

She said Phuket received a lot of repeat MICE business despite the fact most conference and incentive groups don’t tend to return to a destination.
Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau will be doing more to actively support Phuket’s bleasure offerings including promoting local trade partners at AIME next year. m