It’s a bleasure

Even in meetings, travellers want more playtime, causing a blurring of business with pleasure or leisure – i.e. bleasure – and forcing meeting organisers and hoteliers to look at work-life balance seriously.

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InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula pushes the boundaries

The quest for work-life balance among today’s road warriors has crept into the meeting sector, where providing wellness to delegates has become a serious thinking point of meeting planners and hoteliers instead of an afterthought.

Research by at least three chains shows that ‘bleisure’ or ‘bleasure’ – a mixing or blurring of business with leisure or pleasure – is a real phenomenon.

Hilton HHonors’ survey, for instance, shows one in three UK employees invites partners and families along on business trips, and a high percentage of employers (45 per cent) is sympathetic and supportive of staff creating their own bleasure stays.

Even Chinese travellers today are “not shy” to mix business with pleasure, a Wyndham Hotel Group survey shows. More than two-thirds of Chinese travellers (67 per cent) say they bring a spouse or a family member along on business trips and 59 per cent extend business trips to include leisure time.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in South-east Asia notes a 50 per cent rise in bleasure bookings among meeting delegates, who add on a leisure stay pre- or post-meeting. Not only that, it claims that the bleasure phenomenon is also changing the way people meet: resorts are becoming a more popular destination for business travel and meetings, less time is being spent cooped up in the boardroom (reduced to an average of a day, with as many as two or three days spent in break-out sessions), and more time is being spent on programmes that include working with social and environmental charities. Not only that, it said around 25 per cent of enquiries required at least a half day be set aside for delegates to enjoy the spa or local excursions.

As a result of these findings, IHG is promoting blue-sky thinking and self-improvement meetings, according to Mark Flower, director of commercial, IHG South-east Asia.

Changing supply
Hotels and venues are rewiring to meet bleasure aspirations, with new properties having a better go at this.

The Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach Resort, for example, is launching a meeting room with its very own golf putting green.

The best spaces are also going to meetings, no longer in the basement like before. An example is The Summit, a meeting room at the top of a mountain offered by InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort.

The design of meeting rooms too is being redefined. The new Pullman Bangkok Silom Hotel G, for instance, has a meeting space called The Gallery, done in a New York-style art gallery. Apart from its conceptual decor and minimalist furnishing, the room offers plenty of daylight and is peppered with iPads for delegates. “Clients want more flexibility, reactivity, multi-tasking, connectivity, which impacts the interior design and even the service,” said Xavier Louyot, Pullman’s vice president global marketing.

Integrated resorts (IRs) such as Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Singapore see themselves as inherent venues for bleasure, due to the multitude of pleasure options available – spa, entertainment, art, F&B, theatre, casino, etc. And while delegates can enjoy these at leisure, IRs add value to meetings with group ideas, such as the Dine Around at MBS, which leverages on MBS’ six celebrity chef restaurants. Delegates tart with cocktails and canapés at the first restaurant, then move on to subsequent restaurants for starters, mains, desserts and digestifs. “This allows clients to have a leisurely culinary adventure that they may not normally get to enjoy on their own time,” said John Mims, senior vice president, worldwide sales and resort marketing Asia, Las Vegas Sands Corp.

“The expectations of business travel have changed. More and more, pleasure is a priority than ever before and they expect a higher level of comfort and service while on business. Being seasoned travellers, they also expect to be surprised by new and innovative offerings that they have not come across in other destinations – comparing, contrasting and making mental notes of what they like,” he said.

Soft?
But does bleasure put meetings in danger of becoming soft, pandering to a desire for more playtime?

Corporate chieftains such as David Levitt, president talent development of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who organised O&M’s Asia-Pacific conference in Kyoto recently, said the success of a meeting still lies fundamentally in how well it has been thought out by the company.

“A lot of meetings follow a formula that is outdated and predictable. Because they lack a real set of tangible, aspirational meeting objectives, some well-thought out theatricality and sufficient investment in the areas that matter, disappointment can set in early. There is usually too much input/talking at, top-down, death by powerpoint and long-winded status updates, combined with a lack of real participation (not to be confused with insufficiently planned and thought-through break-out sessions). Most meetings also suffer from over-packed, crammed agendas that would benefit from being ruthlessly pruned and focused. And finally, not enough imagination applied to breaks, meals and fun – this is not about cost, it’s about imagination.

“We have learned the hard way that meetings need to be given a serious amount of careful thought well in advance – not simply because of the cost but to define what their purpose, motivational benefits and value are, and how to be able to sustain the momentum and commitments afterwards. All our significant face-to-face meetings receive a great deal of work in the planning stages.”

That said, Levitt agrees that his meetings are not all work and no play. “There needs to be reward in several forms,” he said. Asked if hotels were pushing the work-life balance too far, he said: “We ourselves are mindful of trying to get this right. I suspect some try to do so more than others, especially if it is a resort location which, by the way, is a pointless location selection by meeting planners if all they intend to do is keep their participants in a windowless meeting room with no time to enjoy the location except for a token dinner by the pool or on the beach.

“We have learned to seriously think more about the locations we choose, why and how to ensure they are relevant to the meeting’s goals and objectives and the wishes of participants.”

This article was first published in TTG Asia, November 30 issue, on page 16. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

Additional reporting from Gracia Chiang

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