Imagine if every time you packed for an international business trip, you threw in a swimsuit, sunscreen and activity wear. Based on the latest trends in business travel, that dream packing list may become the norm. Business travelers are combining their beach vacations with work travel, and the craziest part—employers are encouraging it! Read on to learn the latest trends in business travel or “bleisure” to the Caribbean.
The Caribbean: Business Travel’s Hot New Market
In a recent conversation with Catherine Chaulet, president, Global DMC Partners, she noted that the Caribbean is increasing in popularity when it comes to MICE travel (business travel for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events). The Global DMC Partners’ 2019 Meeting and Incentive Destination Hot List, which intends to predict the up-and-coming destinations for the year’s business travel, lists several Caribbean islands, alongside Costa Rica, including the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and St. Lucia.
Chaulet gives a few reasons for this; many islands are fully rebounded from the past few years’ aggressive hurricane seasons, poor press surrounding the Caribbean (remember the Zika virus?) has lessened and more direct flights to the Caribbean mean easier connectivity for busy business travelers. While these certainly play a role in attracting MICE planners to the Caribbean specifically, it also helps that the Caribbean is making efforts to tap into the latest business travel trends. Though, in some cases, there’s no effort needed—the Caribbean is already built for the up-and-coming trends that have evolved as more business travelers age up, with Boomers replaced by more travel-savvy millennials.
Historically, the Caribbean’s business travel market has catered to organizations involved in finance, banking, pharmaceuticals and energy (did you know Trinidad and Tobago is the fifth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world?), but now industries of all kinds head to the Caribbean for a taste of the tropics.
Business travel is becoming an experience, not just a simple trip for work.
Current MICE Trends
According to Chaulet, many business travelers and MICE planners are now actively looking for destinations that combine safety, affordability and uniqueness—all of which the Caribbean offers in droves. More and more, business travelers want an authentic experience. When they visit a destination for work, they want to experience that destination—not a hotel room and conference center that could be in any city in the world. When they partake in team-building and social activities, they want those to be unique as well. They want to get active, see something they won’t anywhere else and enjoy multiple choices. Because of these desires, business travel is becoming an experience, not just a simple trip for work.
The “Bleisure” Lifestyle
Additionally, business trips are now more likely than ever to expand into something called a “bleisure” trip, or business plus leisure. Popular with the younger set of workers, it’s not uncommon for them to request a few days off in their destination or to push off their company-paid flight back home to enjoy some time on the road. They see business travel as a means to fuel their leisure travel.
According to an Expedia Media Solutions study, about 43 percent of all business travel is also a bleisure trip and this is more likely to be the case when the trip is international. While the average business trip is two days in duration, the average bleisure trip is four or more days. The study also found that for many, bleisure travel allows them to take vacations they otherwise couldn’t if they were forced to use vacation time and foot the bill for their own flights.
And it’s not just the employees who are benefiting from the trend. Bleisure has been shown to lead to greater employee productivity (The Skift Bleisure Travel Report showed that 78 percent of business travelers were more effective when on a bleisure trip versus a business-only trip). Additionally, millennial workers, notoriously difficult to attract and retain, say they are willing to switch to a job that offers more travel perks. Plus, allowing an employee to extend a trip for bleisure travel can result in a cheaper overall cost for a company, as flying the employee back mid-week versus on the weekend can save hundreds in airfare.
Resorts Offer It All
For those bleisure travelers, many choose to bring family members or spouses along with them, so that they can join in on the fun when the working portion of the trip is over. However, if you’re staying in a drab hotel near the airport catering to business travelers only, the likelihood of the accompanying family member having an enjoyable time is slim.
Many resorts are well-equipped to deal with bleisure travelers and handle most MICE events (from big conferences to smaller work affairs), but they also offer plenty to do for accompanying family members who are looking for fun while mom or dad, husband or wife is wrapped up business during work hours.
Destinations Are Paying Attention…
Destinations are no stranger to doing whatever they can to attract tourism dollars to their country and the same holds true for Caribbean destinations looking at the cash cow MICE market.
Puerto Rico is developing new hospitality and entertainment complexes near the Puerto Rico Convention Center, in efforts to please the MICE market. However, even without this, Puerto Rico has been a prime business travel destination for a while, along with reopening and renovating properties following Hurricane Maria. In fact, more travelers come to Puerto Rico for business than they do for pleasure, and the relatively new Puerto Rico Convention Center is by far the largest convention center in the entire Caribbean.
Saint Lucia has started to turn an eye to MICE as well, hosting familiarization trips for MICE planners and agents, while actively promoting its conference facilities and modern amenities. The Bahamas and Barbados also have large meeting and events facilities.
…As Are Travel Brands
You don’t have to tell high-end hotel brands and other traditionally business-travel-friendly brands about the attention the Caribbean has been getting. They’re noticing and doing something about it. Hilton, for example, recently announced that it would open a business-friendly Curio Collection property on Grand Cayman in 2021, as Hilton’s first hotel in the Cayman Islands. The brand said in a statement that the property would offer “an innovative wellness tourism product that also caters to the discerning business traveler.”
Airlines are investing largely in routes to the Caribbean islands, not only to feed business travelers already headed there but to encourage more business travelers to join the party. After all, of all the travel demographics, there are few that value convenience and quick travel as much as the harried business traveler—a one-way, non-stop flight can be just the thing to persuade them to pick one destination over another.
According to OAG, the number of non-stop flights between the United States and the Caribbean increased by 18 percent, to more than 135,000, in 2018 from just over 114,000 in 2013. American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, United and more—they’re all making travel to the Caribbean easier and more convenient than ever.
The Best Business Trip of Your Life
With all of the above reasons to travel to the Caribbean for your next business trip, really the only question left is, when can you go? Employers are rewarded with happy, productive employees. Employees are rewarded with a range of options, from their accommodations and their potential flights, to the activities they enjoy while in-destination. Families of employees are even rewarded when they decide to come along for a bleisure trip, with accommodations perfect for everyone and activities available for every taste.
If it’s unique, safe and affordable destinations that MICE planners and business travelers are looking for, the Caribbean delivers on all fronts. With continuous offerings of new and on-trend activities, widespread safety on most islands and affordability, especially through off-peak seasons, it’s only a matter of time before you’re answering emails with your toes in the sand. So, what are you waiting for? A Caribbean business trip could just be the best business trip of your life.