Travel Survey Reveals Secrets for Making “Bleisure” Work

Meeting Planning

It may no longer be enough to secure a property with a big enough ballroom, adequate breakouts and high-speed Wi-Fi. On the must-have list may be a rushing river water park, game room and luxury spa. A new survey of Smart Meetings readers found that most respondents consider the needs of attendee families when choosing a destination.

This accommodation for “bleisure” travel is a side effect of a trend the expense processing company SAP Concur found when it crunched the numbers and estimated that 2.2 million trips that mix business and leisure vacation activities took place in 2017. That’s about 10 percent of all business trips. Global Business Travel Association estimated that more than one-third of North American business travelers extended a work trip that same year for leisure, partly as a cheaper way to take a vacation.

What are best practices for making sure business still gets done and everyone is happy? Our readers shared their secrets from programs that have left everyone feeling like one big, happy family as well as times when not everyone had the same priorities for how time would be spent.

The Results

Almost two-thirds of planners surveyed (63 percent) consider available recreational amenities when choosing a destination. “Although the meeting priorities come first, it is no secret that attendance is boosted based on city and meeting location,” said Jennifer Abner, vice president of meetings and special events at Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders. “Metropolitan hotels and urban resorts are king. People enjoy having the ability to explore the city at their fingertips while having resort amenities.”

Lynn Weddermann, director of events at Medical Conferences International in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, said she looks for venues with plenty of restaurants, a fitness center and walkability to appeal to attendees and their loved ones.

Glenn Parker, president at Cascadia Incentives in Las Vegas, looks for a cross-section of recreational activities and access to cultural events. “I want venues with a wide variety of activity levels, from sedentary to high-level athletic,” he said.

Ann-Michele Ewert, president of Vero Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, looks for properties that have dedicated childcare space and activities. “This helps immensely when planning for families to attend a conference with their parents. Often, if they have these services on site, they will also provide additional child-minding in hotel rooms for an additional fee,” she said.

More than half of planners surveyed (54 percent) include activities for attendee family members in agendas. And they are including children and spouses for free. More than half of respondents (53 percent) do not charge for family members to attend activities.

Even planners who do not specifically incorporate activities for family members in events said they still consider the presence of recreational activities in sourcing decisions, and many provide detailed information and links on area attractions and services. Some negotiate for discount tickets to area attractions with the local convention and visitors bureau.

Many said they try to anticipate the needs of families so everyone can enjoy the experience. Tanya Shore, owner and event planner at San Francisco-based Simcha Sisters, hires nannies and provides kids activities during adult receptions.

More than half of planners surveyed (58 percent), said they bring family with them to industry events at least some of the time—even if the crew doesn’t arrive until after business has wrapped up.

Jack Harrington, principal at the Seattle company Labyrinth Hill Conferences, said he always brings his wife and business partner along, and welcomes spouses (or equivalent) for receptions and meal functions if space is available. “But please check in advance,” he advised.

Bonnie Browning, executive show director with American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky, designs inclusive events. “We invite everyone in on the action,” she said. Family members can register for any of the classes or lectures if an adult accompanies children. “Quilting can be done by anyone, at any age,” she said.

The One Secret for Keeping Everyone Happy

Toronto-based Anne Thornley-Brown, president of Executive Oasis International, recently designed the President’s Club corporate incentive event for top performers, which included 50 adults and a dozen children, at Fairmont Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Employees could upgrade to bring spouses and children. It was a rainy week and she wanted the children to be happy, so she surprised them at the closing dinner with a cooking class and a pinata. It was deemed “the coolest ever” by the daughter of the sponsor.

She has also upped the “wow factor” in the past by tapping into activities already happening on site and adding a polo demonstration, dub mixing classes and other local activities to the agenda without increasing the budget.

When looking for activities that will resonate, she warned, “Don’t assume” and suggested to ask employees and their family members for their areas of interest on profile requests. “We must push the hot buttons of our clients, not our own hot buttons,” she said.

Thornley-Brown’s approach thoughtfully incorporated the No. 1 trick used my most planners in the survey: communication. “Across the board, the most important thing is communication,” said Channing Muller, chief marketing officer with Washington, D.C.-based DCM Communications, who brings her family to some meetings. She suggested communicating clearly with the venue about the number of family members attending as well as the age ranges for F&B and activity purposes. “There is a very big difference between having activities and food for spouses, compared to serving 5-year-olds and teenagers,” she said.

Risa Shimoda plans association and member conferences as executive director at Takoma Park, Maryland-based River Management Society. She stressed the importance of providing clear expectations about business-oriented components of the agenda. She provides instructions for family members about activities they would enjoy, explains how to access them and indicates if they involve associated charges.

Debbie Ravenscraft, global account manager at HelmsBriscoe, suggests researching local sports and music events for activities that families will enjoy.

It is also essential to communicate up. Mia Beans, senior event marketing specialist and experience manager for Aon in Chicago, had this advice: Get buy-in from leadership bringing family members to the event. “If there is a significant number of attendees bringing family members, I usually have the leadership spouses form a planning committee for the families,” she said.

Stay Social

Incorporating hyper-local and CSR activities in an agenda is one way to help everyone feel connected. Wendy Burk, CEO at Cadence in La Jolla, California, said, “Being aware of what individual attendees need from a property is key.”

She suggested considering the dynamic of the group and the targeted ROI—what kind of experience, memories and metrics planners want their attendees to walk away with from their travel, meeting or event. She always recommends implementing a bleisure-friendly travel policy to soften the edges of business travel and bring more of the destination into play.

“Location of a potential property plays a big part in how it fits into the local culture. If a property is walkable and accessible to things like local restaurants, activities, cultural institutions, museums and nightlife, travelers stand a better chance of immersing themselves into a destination and getting more out of their travel,” Burk said.

Incorporating local social activities is also a priority for Cheryl Rogers, executive assistant to the CEO and corporate events manager at Solara Medical Supplies in San Diego. Typically, family members in attendance at retreats and on incentive trips are with the executive leadership team. She looks for activities that the spouses can engage in outside of spa appointments.

“I normally have a CSR Program that they can participate in, even if children are present. This not only provides an enriching activity, but also gives back to the community and provides positive exposure for my organization,” she said.

‘Bleisure’ Responsibly

GBTA estimates 12 percent of travelers experienced an issue where they needed assistance during their last “bleisure” trip. This begs a very important question: Who is legally and financially responsible for employees—and their dependents—if they need emergency assistance during a trip? More specifically, are there portions of a trip not covered by your organization’s assistance and insurance programs?

Some employers may struggle to answer this difficult question up front and simply choose to ignore it—however, neglecting to define when your obligations end (and if they ever really do) is crucial for protecting your travelers and organization.

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