Remote working was not unheard of pre-pandemic, but now with more companies catching on to flexible work, the travel industry can look forward to the next generation of bleisure — a segment of long-staying, out-of-season workationers who will not think twice about leaving travel planning to the professionals.
I believe the work-life balance will be very much different from before. Bleisure is going to be about this synergy where people will decide when they are working or having leisure.
“For some aspects of day-to-day operations, the efficiencies and benefits of remote working have long been recognised by many organisations. This is an established operating model for our business,” said Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer, American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT).
In fact, the company has had the majority of its workforce working remotely long before Covid. “We recognised the flexibility and work-life balance it can offer our team members, who provide 24/7 traveller care, and the benefits to the business. Our cloud-based model meant homeworkers had the technology at their fingertips to offer consistent, personalised service to customers,” Crawley said.
The new WFH: Working from hotels
Fast forward to 2020, work-from-hotel packages emerged almost as a necessity for hotels grappling with the fluctuant occupancy that characterised pandemic times. By offering attractive day-use rates marketed towards the everyday worker rather than weekend staycationers, hotels transformed empty guestrooms into conducive work spaces with added frills.
Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa, which is promoting Bleisure packages, has seen a steady increase in workation demand since the resumption of business from Singapore’s lockdown. Bleisure guests are mostly high-level executives on work-from-home arrangements or staycationers who require a conducive space to manage work while also leisuring with families at the resort, according to the hotel’s general manager Piotr Kupiec.
“A number of guests come here [Le Bar] for breakfast, then work on the computer, head for the pool, then take a conference call in a meeting room, before spending time with their partner or children who are also staying at the hotel,” he shared.
“Business is going to be very much linked with leisure. I believe the work-life balance will be very much different from before. Bleisure is going to be about this synergy where people will decide when they are working or having leisure.”
Sanguine about the continued potentials of work-and-play stays, Kupiec believes that such re-calibration will eventually settle into a sustained arrangement in most companies as they embrace the new work-from-home normal.
With new patterns of work and international travel on the horizon, hospitality accommodation that offer pools, scenic locations and aspirational frills typically missing from home or office cubicles are starting to attract longer staying guests, many of whom are flexible/remote workers.
Since the Maldives opened up to travellers last year, its resorts have famously been rolling out long-stay or even unlimited-stay packages.
Vakkaru Maldives, for example, has a Work Well Package for guests staying 21 days or longer, offering benefits such as a Vacay PA who can assist with day-to-day tasks such as printing documents and setting up meetings with an oceanfront backdrop. The package is even available for entire teams to partake in meetings and workshops in the beach boards of the five-star resort.
Avani Hotels & Resorts has rolled out all-inclusive workation packages to target long-staying workationers. Pictured: Avani Ao Nang Cliff Krabi Resort
A steady uptick in demand from long-staying workationers since late last year has prompted Avani Hotels & Resorts to roll out a series of all-inclusive workation packages in March 2021, focussed on reliable Internet connectivity, streamlined workspace and productivity-boosting meals.
The strongest demand for work-and-play has been for properties in Australia, Thailand, Luang Prabang and Cambodia, according to the group’s director of public relations, Adhiyanto Goen. He also noted increasing enquiries for Sri Lanka with the country’s recent reopening.
Guests have mostly been digital nomads or freelancers, but Avani has started to see some growth from executives enjoying flexible working days or a work-from-home policy. The average length of stay ranges from seven days to two weeks, if not more, shared Goen.
We have seen more executives take up workations in 2020 to give them respite from their daily work-from-home schedule... But at the moment, the demand has mostly been from individual executives.
In Thailand particularly, Avani has observed that workationers are gravitating towards resorts or properties with pool villas. In response, the group has created a two-bedroom pool villa package for Avani Ao Nang Cliff Krabi Resort guests that includes US$98 in resort credits, which guests can spend on meals or spa treatments after a productive day.
Despite tracing the majority of demand to domestic direct bookings, Goen foresees that this could change as employers continue to implement flexible work arrangements beyond the easing of travel restrictions.
“We think workations will be here to stay as people have discovered they don’t necessarily have to [work from office]. They tend towards longer stays with the idea of setting their hotel room/villa as their remote office.”
Importantly, the past year has been ample time for travel-starved professionals to work up an appetite for workations, adding to considerable latent international demand.
Goen elaborated: “While [international travel] is tough until such time when vaccine passports can be accepted globally, the upside is our guests [would by then be] prompt to seek out safe havens or quarantine hotels where there are [great] facilities, such as pool villas. Such accommodation types give our guests a lot more quiet time.”
Leading TMCs believe it's only a matter of time before workations get integrated into corporate travel programmes. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Evgeniia Medvedeva
What's the role of travel agents?
As the workation trend surges in popularity amid continued travel restrictions, where do travel intermediaries come in?
It would appear that professional travel services are extra relevant to workationers, a segment of travellers especially invested in maximising time for both productive work and rejuvenation.
Needs and specifications are also varied in the intersection of work and travel, something that bespoke travel professionals are well placed to take care of.
At Lightfoot Travel, clients stranded overseas due to work have been requesting for add-on holidays, according to co-founder and director of the tailormade travel company, Nico Heath.
“Many of our clients run their own businesses or are CEOs. They have often worked during their holiday [even pre-pandemic]. [We call them ‘workations’ now], but they might not have traditionally thought of these as such, preferring to keep it as much of a holiday as possible,” he shared.
But Heath believes that the rise of remote working post-pandemic will prompt longer stays in villas as people set up their homes away from home. At Lightfoot, some clients are already opting for such workations “to break up the monotony of lockdowns by leaving their home countries during the pandemic, where they have homeschooled in the Caribbean or taken over African camps”, he added.
“Our guests come to Lightfoot as they know with our global book of contacts we can open up private tutors for families, indicate to them where the best Wi-Fi connections are for business and keep them comfortable simultaneously. It’s all part of the tailormade service when looking for a bespoke trip,” Heath pointed out.
And with workations becoming increasingly part of the norm, how would this reshape managed travel?
Bertrand Saillet, managing director for Asia, FCM Travel, told Travel Weekly Asia: “We have seen more executives take up workation in 2020 to give them respite from their daily work-from-home schedule. Some have also used this as a semblance of vacation given that international travel is still challenging. But at the moment, the demand has mostly been from individual executives... We have not seen many companies build workation into their travel programmes or as a company benefit in Asia.”
While workations have not yet been integrated into corporate travel programmes, leading names in managed travel believe this could be only a matter of time.
Amex GBT’s Crawley shared: “Now people and companies are more cognisant of how they can use technology to work from home, there is the potential to work more comfortably from any destination. This could see travellers looking at more alternative accommodation options—such as short-term rentals, long-term stays, and serviced apartments.
“We think these will be more available options as part of corporate travel programmes moving forward as more people take advantage of the option to work from anywhere.”