Work Moves to the Beach as 'Bleisure' Time Catches On
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The future of business travel is shaping up to be one of the big unanswered questions of the economic reopening. At the same time, many people are eagerly planning their first big post-pandemic family vacation — or vacations. And that's where "bleisure" comes in.
It may still be awhile before business travelers are packing convention halls in Manhattan and Chicago again. But our growing comfort with remote and flexible work arrangements may open up an even bigger category of travel that combines both business and leisure. Bleisure is one way we can take advantage of some of the new experience we've acquired over the past year in how to live and work.
Rather than a wholesale return to five days a week in the office, or a fully remote workplace, companies are more likely to settle on hybrid models — though what constitutes hybrid will be different from company to company. Moving to Florida to work remotely for a New York or California-based company might be a solution for some but not for others. There's still value in being close to the office and coworkers, even if it's not necessarily every weekday.
Summer might be the time we see bigger changes in work-life balance, when schools are out and the office often moves at a slower pace as workers take vacations with their families. Rather than having to take time off to go to the beach or visit relatives, a greater acceptance of remote work makes a different type of summer travel possible.
Working outside the office for two or three weeks from a scenic destination on the water or in the mountains might be the post-pandemic normal for some white-collar professionals. It's the kind of extended visit or vacation that's traditionally been difficult to manage for office workers when they have only a limited number of paid days off.
United Airlines announced Thursday that they were expanding service to multiple destinations on the water in the eastern part of the U.S., anticipating that those types of places are going to see increased demand this year. The destinations — Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, plus Pensacola, Florida, and Portland, Maine — all will get direct routes from cities in the Midwest.
Thanks to our always-on-duty culture of smartphones and laptops, how to better manage the blending of work life and home life has been a topic of increasing concern in recent years. All the downsides that come when work encroaches on home and family time were even more apparent during the pandemic.
A shift to bleisure — working while on vacation — might in some ways be a continuation of that always-on dynamic, but at least it's one that would benefit workers for a change. If you're expected to always respond promptly to emails and phone calls, having the opportunity to do that from the Hamptons or Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on a Tuesday in July or August beats having to do it after commuting home from the office.
It's also a great opportunity to give retired grandparents more time with the grandkids while they help out their own children with babysitting during those Zoom calls and project deadlines.
And this means our idea of what constitutes business travel may change. No longer would it just be all about hotel points and frequently flier miles. Hotels will need internet connections fast enough to handle videoconferencing and large monitors that their guests can plug their laptops into.
Different kinds of accommodations will be needed for longer stays with multi-generational families. Beach towns may need their own coworking spaces -- why not a WeWork in Hilton Head, South Carolina, or Key West, Florida? Rather than kids going to summer camps near their homes, there will be growing demand for camps in vacation spots as families move both their leisure and professional routines to communities that were previously focused entirely on recreation.
This type of experience won't be for everyone — renting accommodations for two or three weeks at a leisure destination isn't cheap — but for well-paid white-collar professionals it's going to be much more common than it was pre-pandemic.
The rise of extended working vacations, enabled by technology and employers who are more comfortable with remote work, will be an enormous development opportunity for these communities. The Millennial generation is beginning to turn 40 and is ready to embrace this new way of spending time with their families. Many of the coastal districts now known for leisure and family vacations took off during the mid-20th century baby boom: Hilton Head's development as a tourist destination began in the 1950's, and Walt Disney announced plans to build Disney World in Orlando in the 1960's.
These communities weren't built overnight, and they won't become optimized for bleisure travel overnight. But it's something to watch as we try out new ways to work and live in a post-pandemic world.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Conor Sen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and the founder of Peachtree Creek Investments. He's been a contributor to the Atlantic and Business Insider and resides in Atlanta.
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