The terms “bleisure travel” or “bizcations” have long existed ever since the idea of traveling for both work and leisure has been accepted as a privilege – an employment perk. Meanwhile, the advent of telecommunications, and later on the Internet, has brought the rise of remote work – further blurring the boundaries between work and leisure. Nowadays, you won’t have to look hard to find productive remote workers and digital nomads in places like a busy co-working space in Bali or in the comforts of a private villa in Phuket.
In today’s pandemic era, lockdowns and restrictions have forced companies and swathes of workers to shift to working remotely. More and more of these workers have come to embrace work-from-home arrangements and more flexible work environments. For some, this means not only working from virtually anywhere but also being able to take their jobs on the road with them while on vacation – whether over the weekend, for a week, or longer stays stretching up to a month.
The pent-up demand for “revenge travel” and the easing of entry restrictions in many countries have substantially grown this “workation” phenomenon – surely enough for the travel and hospitality industries to take notice.
Destinations are primed
Earlier this year, travel search engine Kayak launched its first Work from Wherever Index. It identifies the best countries to work remotely from in 2022. Using 22 factors divided into six categories, including travel, local prices, health and safety conditions, social opportunities, remote work capabilities, and weather, the index reveals the best destinations for both work and leisure.
After analyzing 111 countries worldwide, Portugal emerged as the all-around best place to work remotely. With a final score of 100, the country garnered high scores for accessibility for remote workers, climate, and safety. Portugal also attracts many working ex-pats with their digital nomad visa and the high English proficiency of its locals. Meanwhile, Japan topped Kayak’s Asia Pacific rankings with a score of 90, followed by Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia to round out the top five.
Similarly, vacation search engine company Holidu has also released their own Workation Index that ranks the best cities in the world for workations based on several factors deemed necessary for remote workers, from the average WiFi speed of the country to the average cost of caffeine. Bangkok in Thailand topped Holidu’s index, followed by New Delhi in India and Lisbon in Portugal.
The Industry Responds
Airbnb has tripled down on its efforts to support what it believes is the future of work. “I think the office, as we know it, is over,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in an interview with Time’s The Leadership Brief. “Remote work has untethered many people from the need to be in an office. And as a result, people are spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time,” he added in an earnings call last February.
In last month’s summer release, Airbnb unveiled what they called “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade.” “We have changed the new way to search on Airbnb for a new world of travel that we think is permanent,” said Airbnb global head of hosting Catherine Powell. “Now, obviously, not everybody has the same flexibility; not everybody is able to work remotely in the same way. But we believe that there is newfound flexibility. People are discovering new places, domestically as well as internationally. And they are staying longer.”, she added.
The new “Categories” feature groups properties into specific collections based on specific factors, while the new “split stays” feature makes it easier to divide longer trips between two Airbnb properties. Last year, Airbnb revealed more features targeted toward the growing number of remote workers, including a feature called “Verified WiFi,” – which allows would-be guests to check the WiFi speed of a property before booking. The tool has since been put to use nearly 300 million times since its release in November.
Numerous boutique and hotel chains worldwide have also started offering enticing remote work packages. Global hospitality company Hyatt offers their “Work from Hyatt” package at over 100 of their hotels and resorts. An extended five-plus night stay through their package affords guests a separate workspace, discounted laundry services, free parking, WiFi, plus daily food and beverage credit. Their “Great Relocate” package takes the perks to the next level with complimentary housekeeping and access to a gym, board meeting rooms, and I.T. support for guests who stay for more than 29 nights.
Other packages, like the Oasis Passport from the premier rental company Oasis, offer travelers the option to pay a flat monthly fee, allowing them to move between any accommodation from their Oasis Collection worldwide. The package includes weekly housekeeping, WiFi, utilities, and concierge support. Many of these similar packages from different companies certainly have remote workers in mind – offering simple yet convenient and thoughtful perks like free office supplies and complimentary use of equipment like computer monitors and printers.
The trend has also trickled its way into more high-end, 5-star accommodations as well. Luxury resorts and hotel companies like Aman, Rosewood, and Six Senses have welcomed scores of remote workers. “We have seen many guests across our entire collection working from the comfort and safety of their private pavilions, maisons, suites, and villas,” says Roland Fasel, Chief Operating Officer of Aman Resorts, in one interview. These guests seek the perfect balance between productivity and relaxation. Fasel also raised the importance to ensure that Aman’s properties “provide amenities to aid in combating the stress and fatigue that is so synonymous with working life.” He further notes that the definition of a ‘business traveler’ has evolved from the conventional. Many of whom are now traveling alongside their families. Aman has started offering long-stay packages with enhanced services for remote workers with families and children in tow. These include babysitting, educational workshops, and other substitutes for after-school activities.
Meanwhile, at Six Senses Nihn Van Bay, “There is a definite trade-off between business and relaxation, justifying a longer stay,” says general manager Andrew Whiffen. Whiffen says they have noticed an increase in travelers booking longer stays of up to 3 months – with whole families and even children taking online classes. Requests for equipment like extra monitors, secure WiFi connections, and the private rooms for video conferencing have also been on the rise. This new class of travelers is certainly productive on both ends – working hard and “making the most of their downtime, enjoying activities such as watersports and hiking, as well as the extensive signature spa treatments on offer.”
Luxury private villas have also seen an uptick in clients on such workations. “We have seen a noticeable increase in guests specifically inquiring about the availability of fast and reliable Internet connection in our private villa rentals, as well as work-conducive zones and spaces where they can retreat and be productive,” says Silvan Kitma, General Manager of The Luxury Signature.
“Medium to long term stays have also become popular for groups of working individuals traveling together. They seek comfort, safety, and privacy. All the exclusive amenities and modern conveniences of our holiday homes have attracted remote workers – treating our luxury villas less like temporary workspaces – but more like indulgent homes away from home.
A fad or is it here to stay?
Industry experts are expecting the continued rise of the trend as more and more companies see the value of remote work and continue to offer flexible work arrangements to their employees.
Numerous companies have adopted “remote first” policies, making it the default option for most of their employees. Many other companies have made it optional for employees to be in the office if their physical presence is not deemed essential.
In a recent survey of 10,000 employees conducted by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, 30% of workers believe they are more productive and engaged when working remotely. Employees appear to be in the same boat. In an 800-employer survey by Mercer, 94% reported that productivity was higher for employees working remotely.
This newfound adaptability people have acquired from the pandemic have not only taught us to explore new places where we can be productive but has also heightened our awareness of work-related stressor and the importance of balancing work and leisure.
According to a survey by Booking.com of 20,000 travelers from 28 different countries, 37% have considered booking a trip to a destination for work. In another global study of eight countries cited by BBC, 65% of the 5,500 respondents reported that they intend to extend a work trip into a leisure one, or vice versa, in 2022.