Many business travelers simply don't have time to explore destinations on their own, no matter how much of a priority they say it is. This is where convention centers can play a key role, bringing the destination to time-strapped attendees.
Business travelers to San Francisco may squeeze in an extra afternoon to visit the Painted Ladies, while conference attendees in Berlin may make room for a couple nice meals at iconic local food spots. Whatever the case, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to industry players that more and more business travelers are trying to blend leisure and work when traveling, whether or not they have the time.
It is not just the traveler’s responsibility to mix a little fun with business, however. Convention centers and meeting planners increasingly are playing larger roles in creating a quirky cultural experience for event attendees, especially when trips are short in length. Sometimes that includes bringing that experience directly to biz travelers.
“In fact, I think that is the most important thing when it comes to planning a meeting, regardless of where it is,” said Joshua Novick, vice president of business development for London & Partners. “I think London as a destination understands how to do that.”
More than 60 percent of business trips in the past year included a leisure portion, according to recent research into corporate travel trends from Expedia Group Media Solutions, a number that is set to grow as younger travelers gain more of an influence in the business world, both as travelers and meeting planners.
“The way people move around the world these days, going to London for the weekend or Paris for the weekend is a lot more accessible, and time is so much more valuable. We need to make these meetings and events as engaging as possible, meaning we need to think outside of the box,” Novick said.
Travelers want to experience distinctive aspects of the destination they are in, just as they would on a traditional leisure trip, he added. As a major global city with numerous landmarks and a long history, London has an advantage: travelers from China, India, and the UK view it as a top destination to combine work and play, according to the research.
“I think people are looking to things that speak to the destination and give you the opportunity to know that you’re somewhere that’s not your home,” Novick said, highlighting many of the unorthodox meeting spaces London has on offer, such as allowing attendees to gather in an old palace, or in the historic Tobacco Dock, a refurbished building along the old docks of East London.
“If the attendees can’t go out and experience a double-decker bus, we’ve had clients bring in double-decker buses into the convention center and turn them into food trucks. Or they’ve taken the exhibit hall and turned it into a giant, adult-sized ball pit. It’s taking what you have and making it as quirky and creative as you can and integrating the destination into those experiences.”
For some destinations, however, capitalizing on the so-called bleisure trend may be a little more difficult. Visit Salt Lake, for example, finds itself working against persistent ideas about what activities it has to offer.
“What we’re seeing from younger business travelers is that they want to be able to go out after their meetings are done for the day,” said Scott Beck, CEO of Visit Salt Lake in Utah. “It’s important for them to know that there are interesting bars around and that there are good places to eat.”
This has meant differentiating the city from other areas of Utah, which is known for its nature-oriented offerings, such as mountains and stunning views, which are not as easy to fit in at the end of a long day.
More importantly, Beck said, it means working to undo some of the stereotypes about the state, which is home to the largest number of practicing Mormons in the country, and has a history of relatively restrictive laws surrounding alcohol.
To this end, Visit Salt Lake makes sure to highlight its urban attractions like food trucks, brewery tours, and nightlife, and has an entire section on its website dedicated to Utah’s alcohol laws, which is headlined “Damn the Stereotypes!”
“If you haven’t heard or experienced it for yourself, know that Salt Lake has recently undergone a culinary explosion, combining long-time favorites with new and exciting eateries,” the page reads. “If you want a drink or two with your meal, your server will happily oblige.”
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Photo credit: One of London's iconic double-decker buses and red telephone booth. Jean-Marc Astesana / Flickr