Targeting ‘bleisure’ business
19 MAY 2014 6:21 AM
The longstanding distinction between business and leisure travelers is blurring. Now hoteliers are looking for ways to identify and reach hybrid customers.
GLOBAL REPORT—Hoteliers are pursuing a new segment of the travel market, known as "bleisure" or, as Avis has dubbed it, "bizcation." The overarching question now is what hoteliers can do to target and attract that business.
Pullman Hotels & Resorts, which operates 84 4- and 5-star properties around the world and recently released a study about the blurring distinction between work and leisure lifestyles, has introduced a "Time for Pleasure by Pullman" promotion designed to convert business travelers to leisure stayovers. Now available at more than 50 hotels, the packages—which require a stay of at least three consecutive nights—include unlimited Internet access; "Lounge Connectivity by Pullman" services; breakfast buffet; and a discount on hotel services such as bar, restaurant or video-on-demand.
Another major luxury hotelier interested in developing specific offers for "bleisure" travelers is Belmond, formerly Orient-Express, which operates 45 global hotel, rail and river cruise assets.
"That is something we are definitely keen to offer," said Ralph Aruzza, Belmond's London-based chief sales and marketing officer. "We're currently reviewing options, and we are focused on coming up with creative ways to appeal to business travelers’ work and leisure needs. Our hotels are located in some of the world’s most celebrated destinations, and there’s no reason why corporate guests can’t mix business with a little pleasure. For example, a business trip itinerary could include a local excursion."
Last fall, MGM Resorts International pioneered a new way to reach traditional business travelers by aligning its "M life" loyalty program with Hyatt Hotels Corporation's "Gold Passport" program.
"It's a great marriage that takes the MGM Resorts brand and offers an immediate new opportunity to reach what are primarily business travelers that are loyal to the Hyatt brand," said Gregg Herning, VP of sales at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. "From a strategic point of view, in order to capitalize on the 'bleisure' trend, we were looking for what was primarily a business audience."
MGM Grand and its sister resorts in Las Vegas, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Midwest are aggressively developing marketing plans that convert Hyatt business travelers to MGM leisure guests.
Targeting meeting attendees
One of the most common ways of extracting leisure revenue from business guests is motivating meeting-and-convention attendees, who will often bring their families, to stay over after their event. Although MGM Grand has been doing that informally for years, Herning said it’s no longer an afterthought.
"It's a formal form of add-on business. In other words, it's now an active promotion for us, not just a sideline conversation. And we often include stayover rates and packages in our meeting proposals," he said.
Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, which includes four hotels operated by Loews Hotels & Resorts, offers its group room rate to meeting attendees for three days before and after an event.
"That gives attendees the chance to bring in their families and enjoy our wonderful destination," said Kathy Cattoor, Universal's VP of resort sales.
Vince LaRuffa, the company's VP of resort sales and marketing, said he is seeing a significant increase in the number of companies that now encourage meeting attendees to include their families in the experience. Because of Orlando's status as the world's No. 1 family vacation destination and Universal's unique amenities, which include theme parks and the CityWalk dining and entertainment venue, the company has the ability to take advantage of the "bleisure" trend, LaRuffa said.
In Chicago, the Radisson Blu Aqua also is leveraging meeting business for leisure revenue. Like Universal Orlando, it offers group rates, subject to availability, for three days before and after a conference, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Gordon Taylor. He said he is seeing more transient business travelers extend their stay for the weekend.
As a result of the validity of the "bleisure" trend, forward-looking and innovative hoteliers will find new ways to exploit the opportunity, Herning said.
"Now, when you're doing all you can on TripAdvisor or Yelp, or you're going to do outreach via your online travel channels, where you used to think only of leisure travel, your message now really has to be about leisure and business travel and the growing crossover between them," he said.
At Pullman, an increasingly effective ability to identify and target prospective business travelers for a leisure stayover package is tied into its customer-relationship-management system, said Xavier Louyot, the company's senior VP of marketing. The key to success, he said, is to "make the right offer at the right moment to the right people."
In the future, a key tactic will become the aggressive and creative exploitation of mobile technology to motivate spontaneous activity, such as extending a business trip for a few days of leisure to enjoy destinations like Paris, Las Vegas or Orlando, said Douglas Quinby, VP of research at PhoCusWright.
"I think the learning curve will be in the next 12 to 24 months," Herning said. "We'll continue to evolve an understanding of what we can do on our end as hoteliers to benefit these 'bleisure' travelers, because it is a trend that is not going away. And although Asians and Latin Americans have been combining business and leisure travel for many years, it's a relatively new concept for Americans."