Presented by Springfield-Branson National Airport
This post was paid for and produced by Springfield-Branson National Airport. The Daily Citizen newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content.
To help explain the idea of “bleisure” travel, Vasu Raja, chief commercial officer for American Airlines, says the pandemic taught people a lot of things. Among them, “You can replace going out with eating in. You can work from the office, or work from home. But you can’t replace other people. And the beauty of travel is that travel is about connecting with other people.”
Our struggle through the pandemic years has changed the way people think about travel: we can arrange our lives differently.
“We don’t have to keep a work life for five days, and a personal life for two days, and carve out two weeks a year for vacation,” says Raja.
The end result is that more and more people are combining work travel with leisure travel – otherwise known as bleisure.
The Bleisure Zone
Bleisure is not a new idea; the word was coined more than a decade ago. What is new is that bleisure is currently the economic driver of the airline industry.
Before the pandemic, airline management divided its products into two segments: lowest fare and fastest schedule. If the customer bought the lowest fare, they were leisure. If they purchased the other, they were business. Business travel generated more than half of airline industry revenue.
Now, according to Raja, almost half of American Airlines revenue comes from blended trips. “People aren’t flying for what we historically called business, or historically leisure. The (bleisure) figure has almost doubled.”
Early in the pandemic, American Airlines lost 90 percent of its revenue. “But that’s not what got our attention,” says Raja. “What got our attention is that we kept 10 percent. Think of this [the 10 percent of customers who kept flying] as a new technology. Who are these early adopters?”
According to Raja, here’s what the airline’s research discovered …
“These customers would travel with one (other) person … there wouldn’t be a checked bag, they would be traveling in the middle of the week, they were going to (places like) Bozeman, Montana.
“As we started unpacking this, we found that a disproportionate amount of people were traveling for what they would call a leisure trip. They would go to Bozeman, Montana, for what they would consider personal pleasure. However, they would take conference calls on a Friday, and go hiking Saturday and Sunday.”
The real kicker, from the airline’s perspective, is that bleisure customers tend to spend more than traditional leisure travelers.
“People who are on a blended trip are more likely to enroll in the (airline) loyalty program,” says Raja. “More likely to have our (airline) credit card, they’re more likely to want to be engaged with the company.”
Local bleisure trends
Here at the Springfield airport, we’ve seen the increase in bleisure customers. While it’s hard to pin down exact numbers, passenger data offers plenty of clues.
January is normally a slow time at North American airports. But this year, in Springfield, January passenger numbers were the highest on record for the month: 86,590. That’s 15 percent higher than the previous January record set in 2019.
Then we have January numbers from Allegiant Air. The airline flies customers non-stop from Springfield to vacation destinations. Allegiant’s January 2023 passenger numbers were up 22 percent over last year. That’s a combination of vacation, bleisure, and a smattering of business travelers.
In short, there’s pent up demand for travel. Regardless of why we’re traveling, we’re reconnecting with the world and other people.
Dip your toes in bleisure’s waters
Bleisure travel requires a different mindset. It’s not just a matter of booking airfare, hotel and boom, you’re done. Bleisure tends to get complicated.
Here are things to consider:
- What are your company’s travel policies? What part of the trip will your employer pay for?
- Airfare. They will almost certainly pay for your airfare, but what about your travel companion?
- Lodging. Suppose you want to stay two days beyond the business trip. Will your employer pay for two nights lodging, while you pick up the rest?
- Transportation. If you add vacation days to the business trip, will your employer pay for the rental car during those extra days?
- Does your lodging have fast and reliable Internet? Quality connectivity is a big deal if you plan on participating in conference calls or sharing documents with the office.
- You probably won’t have a say on where the business trip takes you, but you might have a say on where you can stay. Pick lodging in an interesting neighborhood; research the food and entertainment options. Add personal days to a business trip that’s in a place you want to explore.
- Do friends and family live in, or near, your destination? Plan accordingly.
- Travel days have changed somewhat. Before the pandemic, many business travelers left home on Sunday, or Monday, and returned home on Wednesday. That meant that Tuesday was the slowest weekday at most airports. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Many bleisure travelers leave home on Tuesday and return on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
- That brings us to the old “Saturday night stay” rule. To qualify for a low-fare trip, some airlines required leisure customers to spend Saturday night at their destination. This rule seems to go in and out of vogue. So, bottom line, you may not find a Saturday night fare. It’s easy to imagine that bleisure growth would make airlines consider dropping it.
More than sixty years ago, John Steinbeck wrote about his road trip across America. What he said still resonates today:
We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.
It’s too early to know if bleisure travel will continue growing, or where the trip will take us. What is clear is that the pandemic created wanderlust and that we’re now reconnecting with the world and other people.
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