Rethinking Bleisure for Tourism boards

Bleisure isn’t such a foreign term anymore. If not the word, the concept, has become mainstream, and professionals of all demographics are combining business and leisure travel at a steadily growing rate.

This growth presents an opportunity for tourism boards to woo business travelers to their destinations. They can inspire us to extend our stays through food, culture, and unique experiences. If tourism boards are not considering bleisure for their marketing opportunities, they are missing a sizable audience that can continue to drive business through return visits, word of mouth, and social influence.

The professional traveler is becoming ever more flexible as well. More and more, individuals are taking the opportunity to extend a work trip and bring friends and/or family along. Not only that, but professionals (solo or groups) can often be convinced to travel to a nearby market, especially those with easy access and a multitude of unique opportunities. Make no mistake, bleisure offers a big opportunity for our travel industry!

A colleague and I recently had an opportunity to take a bleisure trip to Belgrade, Serbia. While work may have been the reason we were traveling, it was the opportunity for exploration that kept us there.

Belgrade, and Serbia in general, is a place that I might not have selected to visit on my own. My family and I have a list of places we’d like to travel to, and Serbia was not on it. I am so glad that my work took me there, however! For me, one of the benefits of bleisure is that it can take me to destinations or places I might not have considered without the context of a work trip. It helps me take advantage of the opportunity.

The initial purpose for the trip was to collaborate with colleagues and a local business partner. Knowing how much there was to see and do in Belgrade, however, I asked the group if anyone was interested in sticking around for the weekend. The icing on the cake was a significantly lower airfare! Some very high-level research (and conversations with colleagues) revealed that Serbia is a safe and accessible country with Belgrade as a progressive center. The trip presented an ideal opportunity to stay through the weekend and soak up the history and culture of Serbia.

A Day Trip from Belgrade

We knew we wanted to see more than just the city of Belgrade. It was important to experience what was beyond. We wanted to see what the country had to offer and see more of the “real” Serbia, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We wanted to experience the landscape, the roads, the food, the activities, and the culture.

It started with research. While tours have their place, I generally like to create my own itinerary and not be restricted to specific times/locations. I want a plan, but one with limited restrictions. I looked for inspiration on social media, maps, and tour examples that are offered in the area. There was plenty of information available, and I found nearly all of our travel activities through research online.

Every night during the work week, we went out with the team to Serbian restaurants. Food is a big area of focus for our group and for travelers in general (leisure and bleisure alike). Belgrade has lots of natural, real, whole foods. We generally follow the rule that you eat the food of the country you are traveling to with few exceptions. We truly enjoyed the local Serbian cuisine during our stay; one of the team’s favorite dishes was a shopska salad with peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and soft cheese. The food was delicious!

Bleisure in Serbia with Doug Park

As our week was coming to an end, a colleague and I rented a car and planned to set out exploring all through the weekend. I decided to stay at the same hotel I’d been at all week, so all I needed to pack was my camera and a small day pack.

The leisure part of our bleisure trip kicked off Saturday morning with an early drive through Djerdap National Park. Djerdap is an amazing park, following the Danube River which borders Romania to the East. You could spend days exploring but we chose a few of the top destinations (via online research) to prioritize, as we only had one day to spend at Djerdap.

While we didn’t speak the language, sticking with “Thank you,” “Hello,” and “Cheers!” got us a long way. We also had Microsoft Translator on our phones and offline Google Maps in the event we drifted outside cell service.

Bleisure in Serbia Doug Park

Bleisure in Serbia Tourism Boards

We started Saturday with our first unplanned stop of the day at a gas station to fill up a low tire, which luckily didn’t have a leak. Our first planned stop was a walk through Golubac Fortress. We paid for the “extreme” portion of the castle and were not disappointed. After this, we made our way along the Danube to the trailhead for the Ploce Overlook. The overlook was beautiful, with a 180 degree view of the Danube and Romania on the other side.

Bleisure in Serbia Tourism Boards

The hike was only a few miles and not too vertical. When we were ready for lunch, we made our way back toward Belgrade with a stop at Restoran Lepenac+. The food was all home made with tables overlooking the Danube River. Unbelievable location! Our last stop was a visit to the historic museum Lepenski vir, exhibiting examples and artifacts from a 9,000-year-old settlement.

Other activities (eating, shopping, coffee, beers, music, Belgrade city, castles, and more) were planned for Friday night and Sunday. After we returned from Serbia, other teammates told us they wished they had joined in for the bleisure experience, too. I definitely plan on extending my stay again the next time I visit Serbia, this time traveling west from Belgrade to explore even more unique attractions and landscape.

This is one example of bleisure travel, and this same example is replicated by business travelers around the world every day. Putting myself in the shoes of the destination marketers for Serbia and Belgrade, I would absolutely be targeting bleisure travelers, focusing on the memorable and unique activities and experiences the city and country have to offer to travelers taking just a bit more time to explore. Sights, food, culture, history, nature, hiking, waterways, and more are ready to be discovered.

I can’t wait to visit Serbia again.

Destination marketers can learn more about bleisure traveler behaviors and how to engage bleisure travelers in our research, Unpacking Bleisure Travel Trends.