The Rise of ‘Bleisure’ and Sustainability: Transforming Corporate Travel for SMEs

ByMel Quinn

June 17, 2024

Corporate travel has bounced back for good. In fact, according to recent research by Travel Counsellors for Business, corporate travel spending among UK SMEs is set to increase significantly in the next 12 months.

Over half (60%) of SMEs plan to spend more on business travel overseas than they did last year. This is a clear sign that businesses are recognising the immense value of face-to-face interactions in an increasingly digital world.

Recently, two trends have stood out to me in the world of corporate travel that are reshaping the way SMEs approach business travel: ‘bleisure’ trips and sustainability. These trends are not just passing fads; but are indicative of a broader shift in corporate travel priorities, driven by the changing needs and values of businesses and their employees.

The power of in-person meetings

But what is driving this growth in SME travel? Businesses are investing more in their travel spend as the world begins to recognise the irreplaceable value of face-to-face connections.

Our survey of over 1,000 UK SMEs revealed that nearly half (48%) of the respondents cited meeting clients, customers, and prospects in person as the primary reason for their overseas trips. The benefits of such interactions include enhanced collaboration (42%), stronger customer/client relationships (41%), and increased sales/revenue (38%).

These statistics underscore the competitive advantages that come from engaging with clients and partners directly. In-person meetings facilitate deeper connections, foster trust, and often lead to more profitable business outcomes.

‘Bleisure’: A new norm in business travel

One of the most exciting developments in corporate travel is the rise of ‘bleisure‘—the blending of business and leisure travel. Our survey found that nearly half (48%) of SMEs are extending the length of their business trips for leisure purposes, with an average extension of 2.46 days. Also, over two-fifths (42%) of respondents bring their partners or family members along on these trips, mixing their professional and personal lives while away on business.

This trend reflects the greater emphasis we are placing on work-life balance. Travel Counsellors is uniquely placed to support this shift, leveraging our expertise in both business and leisure travel, with over 500 Travel Counsellors working on both disciplines, and often in teams, to deliver an all-encompassing travel solution.

For SMEs, ‘bleisure’ also offers a unique way to enhance employee satisfaction and well-being. By allowing employees to unwind and enjoy new destinations, businesses can boost morale and productivity, making business travel a more rewarding experience.

Embracing sustainability in corporate travel

Sustainability is no longer a business buzzword; it has become a crucial consideration for businesses across the sector, when thinking about setting out travel policies or assessing purchasing decisions. Our research indicates that over half (57%) of SMEs are taking steps to implement more sustainable business travel practices. These include scheduling multiple meetings in the same trip to reduce the number of flights (44%), choosing transport providers and hotels that prioritise sustainability (43%), and booking direct flights, rather than multi-leg options, to minimise carbon emissions (40%).

From carbon estimates at the point of quotation on flights, through to post-travel carbon reporting; it is imperative that SMEs have the correct data available to make lower carbon choices. Travel Counsellors for Business use a Green Leaf label to flag where hotels have sustainability accreditations that are recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to help our clients choose more sustainable accommodation options.

The push towards sustainability is driven by both corporate responsibility and the growing demand from employees for more environmentally friendly practices. SMEs are recognising that sustainable travel not only benefits the planet but also enhances their corporate reputation and aligns with the values of their workforce and customers.

Top destinations for SME travel

The preferred destinations for SME business travel in the next 12 months are Europe (74%), North America (28%), and the Middle East (19%). Europe, with its proximity and diverse business hubs, remains the top choice and North America and the Middle East are also key regions where SMEs are looking to expand their business networks and explore new markets.

The future of corporate travel

The increasing integration of ‘bleisure’ and sustainable practices into corporate travel policies signals a promising future for SMEs. By embracing these trends, businesses can offer more enriching travel experiences while minimising their environmental impact. This dual focus on employee well-being and sustainability is likely to define the next era of corporate travel.

When it comes to planning and booking overseas business trips, nearly half (47%) of SMEs use a travel management company. Now is the time for travel companies to offer personalised services and technology solutions to provide SME clients with a highly tailored and concierge like service. In doing so, companies like Travel Counsellors fore Business can power SME growth to take their businesses to the next level.

As we move forward, SMEs must continue to innovate and adapt their travel strategies. This includes leveraging technology to streamline travel planning, ensuring that travel policies are flexible and supportive of ‘bleisure’ activities, and committing to sustainability goals.

I am excited to see how these trends will continue to evolve and shape the future of corporate travel, offering new opportunities for businesses to thrive in an interconnected and conscientious world.