Making Bleisure Work (and Play) For Your Next Event

Meeting planners who choose vacation-ready locations for their conferences will likely boost attendance, thanks to the growth of "bleisure" travel.

Work travel is tougher than ever these days: Flights are packed to the gills, airport security lines never abate, and—most important—putting the day-to-day work duties on hold seems to gets tougher every year.

So it makes sense that an increasing number of people are looking to tack on a couple vacation days—or more—to work travel. It’s a simple matter of efficiency—and cost-savings—in terms of money saved by not having to spend on pricey vacation flights.

According to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ 2015 Decision to Attend Study, 82 percent of prospective attendees said the conference location factors into their decision to register, with many mentioning that they are looking to visit new places. And a survey of 2017 travel trends found that 49 percent of business travelers already extend their business trips to further enjoy the destination, and 75 percent planned to do so the same or more in 2017.

Bleisure travel—a combo of business and pleasure travel—is here to stay.

For your members who are vacillating about whether or not to attend a conference, the ability to immediately segue from productive meeting to fabulous vacation—either solo or with the family in tow—could motivate them to register. Meeting planners are keeping that in mind as they choose their future conference cities.

Don’t Be Afraid to Mix It Up

Last January, Carylann Assante, CAE, Executive Director of SYTA Youth Foundation in McLean, Va., held her first winter meeting in Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. She wasn’t sure what to expect. “We usually stay at a warm-weather resort for our January meeting, so this was our first true winter experience,” she said.

But she knew that an increasing number of her meeting attendees are big on bleisure travel, so she gambled on the switch.

The Alberta conference was SYTA’s largest ever. And Assante estimates that 25 percent of conference attendees took advantage of the location to take some vacation time before or after the conference.

That’s not surprising. Banff made National Geographic Traveler magazine’s Best of the World list, which highlights 21 must-see places to visit in 2017. Organizations that hold their meetings in the area see an average year-over-year attendance increase of 5 to 7 percent, according to Kyla Knudson, Director of East Coast USA Meetings, Incentives, Conventions & Events for Travel Alberta.

Finding the Sweet Spot: Bleisure for Attendees, Convenience for Planners

When branching out to new conference cities, it’s helpful to have the inside scoop on what the area offers and how attendees can make the most of their time there. One organization—Travel Alberta—caters to this particular demand.

“The Travel Alberta team met with me several times to learn about SYTA and our objectives for the meeting,” Assante said. “This was our first experience with the province, and we were very impressed by the geographic diversity of the cities, the national parks and what each had to offer for our meeting attendees.”

Travel Alberta and its partners offer airfare support, enabling meeting planners unfamiliar with the province to see its offerings firsthand.

There’s a lot to see. Alberta offers North America’s fastest zip line from Calgary’s highest vantage point, the ski-jump tower at Canada Olympic Park, dogsledding across a frozen lake surrounded by majestic snow-clad mountains, and farm-to-table outdoor dining experiences in the greater Edmonton area. “These are unforgettable experiences that will extend the conference experience and buzz,” Knudson said.

Assante is sold on Alberta as a conference site, partially because of its bleisure potential. “Our meeting in Canada was on the bucket list for many attendees,” she said.

And she’s already seeing future business booked based on attendees’ positive experience at the January Banff conference. Her northern experiment definitely paid off.

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