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‘Bleisure’ is the latest work trend, spurred by the pandemic. Here’s what it means, and why it’s being hotly debated

February 12, 2022, 3:30 PM UTC

Business travel used to consist of two or three-day corporate getaways, but a new trend that blends business and personal travel may change that, for better or worse.

The portmanteau ‘bleisure’ is exactly what it sounds like: a merging of business and leisure travel. Imagine being sent to attend a two-day conference in Miami, and then enjoying a partly subsidized two-week beachside stay before attending another business meeting.  

Technology and an unexpected global experiment in working from home during the pandemic have revolutionized the world of work. From the freelance writer to the contracted coder, technology has made bleisure, a state of traveling before, during, or after business trips, a reality.

Workplaces that permit bleisure travel allow employees to extend their business trips and spend time vacationing and sightseeing at their destination. Some workers can even bring their families and friends along. 

The phenomenon is different from digital nomads, who travel permanently while working online. For bleisure travelers, the stays are far shorter.

But there’s a catch. 

The problem with bleisure is it may be just another merging of leisure time and work in the COVID era and a further breakdown of the traditional barriers that have existed between personal and professional lives.

The days when a vacation meant leaving work behind appears to be retreating further and further into the past. Research, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research and elsewhere, shows that working hours crept higher and higher in 2020 and 2021 for remote workers, as mental health grew correspondingly precarious.

Thought leaders are taking notice.

A new book by the British journalist Johann Hari, called Stolen Focus, argues that too much time online is having a detrimental effect on attention spans, while Zak Jason recently wrote in Wired that a “great smushing” has occurred amid the pandemic, as digital technologies “collapsed our identities into mush.” The comedian Aziz Ansari even talked in a recent Netflix special, of ditching his smartphone, which helped him get his “brain back.” Seen through this lens, bleisure could be the problem, not the solution.

Bleisure blather

The term bleisure was first coined in 2009 by the Future Laboratory, a business consulting group. Parts of bleisure travel packages come out of the employee’s pocket, but employers with bleisure policies can strike deals with hotels and tour operators for discounted rates and other amenities. 

For advocates, bleisure can help revitalize the struggling business travel industry from the pandemic’s impact.. In 2020, spending on business travel was nearly $700 billion, but the pandemic dealt the industry a crippling blow as companies now expect as much as a 25% decline in number of business trips through to 2025, compared to before the pandemic.

For some airlines, the rise of remote working, online conferences, and pandemic-era restrictions wiped out nearly 75% of their income. Business travel is rebounding more slowly than leisure travel, and industry experts don’t expect a full recovery before 2024.

Bleisure trips were already rising before the pandemic, with the number of business trips that became bleisure trips rising 60% between 2016 and 2018, according to Expedia Group Media Solutions, a travel information platform. That trend is expected to continue after the pandemic due to changed work habits, a desire for longer and more immersive vacations, and concerns about the environmental impact of business travel

Delayed or canceled travel plans are making many consider embarking on ‘revenge travel’ to make up for lost time during the pandemic, Vivi Cahyadi Himmel, CEO and cofounder of corporate housing provider AltoVita, told Fortune’s Rachel King last year.

“When it comes to business travel, the knock-on impact of ‘revenge travel’ is that employees are now open to extended stays, traveling further afield, and looking for a more diverse range of accommodation,” Himmel said.

Bleisure travel may provide a boon to floundering industries and tourism, but it is the latest sign of the pandemic-induced culture of never-ending remote work. Spending a subsidized two weeks at a cushy beachfront resort may sound like heaven, but your poolside lounging might be interrupted by a call from your boss at any moment. So where is the leisure in that, really?

[This article has been updated from its original version to add more comments about the state of remote workers’ mental health.]

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