Comment: Forward-thinking employers must respond to calls for flexibility

IHG Hotels & Resorts’ Claire Chapoulet says savvy firms will embrace a desire for ‘blended travel’ to attract staff and customers alike

The ‘new normal’ is a term that I have a love-hate relationship with. While it painfully reminds me of the difficult two years we’ve all just come through, it’s undoubtedly the most apt term for the changed world that we’re now living in – particularly when it comes to hybrid working patterns.

Working within the travel industry, you will have seen first-hand just how quickly things are evolving – how we want to travel, live and work is changing, and it’s changing fast. Our attitudes towards careers, leisure, home, and family are in flux due to social changes, technological progress and the evolving nature of work and leisure.

However, alongside this, one of the major fallouts of the last two years of economic unrest and various socio-political events, is a talent crisis. The UK has recently hit the grim milestone of the highest number of job vacancies in 20 years and, as we demand more from our employers – whether it be work-life balance, pay rises, or other perks – business leaders across multiple industries are facing unprecedented pressure when it comes to hiring and retaining staff.

At Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, we are always looking to adapt to our customers’ needs and we’ve been tracking the needs of business travellers for years. We’ve recently worked with Stylus, a global trends and insights business, to develop an industry-first whitepaper looking at the rise of ‘Blended Travel’.

The report explores the major emerging lifestyle trends re-shaping the future of a blended travel landscape, including travellers tagging leisure time on to work trips, spending longer in a holiday destination to work, or simply harnessing the benefits of advanced connectivity and a desirable destination to work from anywhere in the world.

So, why is blended travel so important to attract and retain talent? Research from the whitepaper reveals that the majority of Millennial and Gen-Z consumers are more inclined to work for a company that offers frequent travel or flexible (work + leisure) travel possibilities as a perk. Additionally, flexibility in working hours is the must-have work perk amongst consumers over a high salary or a reduced working week, with over half of UK consumers believing that combining work with a leisure trip abroad would be beneficial to them and allow them greater flexibility.

Travel agents are in a prime position to capitalise on these changing attitudes to work and travel, demonstrating to employers how they can hire and retain staff by taking this ‘blended travel’ approach to employees’ business trips. We should encourage clients to maximise their employees’ opportunity to travel with the business but, more importantly, to tag on additional days to their business trip for leisure purposes. With Crowne Plaza, employers can opt for a hotel or resort that caters to leisure and wellbeing once business is complete (or blends the two!) using our hotels’ wellbeing facilities. Being able to wind down and recharge with a massage or a dip in the pool after a long day of meetings is also a great benefit.

At Crowne Plaza we’re evolving to meet this growing demand for blended travel, with our new hotel openings in 2021 and 2022 specifically designed to cater for these needs. We’ve got specific WorkLife rooms, as well as Plaza Workspaces, which are hybrid workspaces to cater for gatherings and include pods, workstations, and meeting spaces.  Employers can choose from a myriad of options for a blended business and leisure trip with premium hotels based in more than 429 locations in city, airport, leisure & suburban destinations across 63 countries.

The ‘new normal’ may be something of a cliché, but there’s no doubt we will need to continue adapting and responding to meet evolving consumer habits and needs in the years ahead.

Claire Chapoulet is head of global Crowne Plaza and EMEAA Upscale Brands at IHG Hotels & Resorts

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