All work and all play

Workation is trending now on the back of rising remote work, growing hunger for a proper vacation and stronger desire for work/life balance. Karen Yue finds out how hotels and resorts are responding.

Moving from bed to desk within minutes to ready for one’s first meeting of the day has become a norm for many people, as offices rely on work-from-home arrangements to keep staff safe during the pandemic.

Now, as freedom of movement returns, a workation trend has emerged – people are combining remote work with much-needed vacation at relaxing locations, such as hotels, resorts and villas.

When conducted a study in late-2020 to identify critical travel trends in 2021 and beyond, it discovered that people were looking to take longer trips in the future that allowed them to mix work and pleasure. Thirty-seven per cent of travellers considered booking somewhere to stay in order to work from a different destination, while 52 per cent would take the opportunity to extend any business trips to enjoy leisure time at the destination.

Richard Roocroft, director of global sales at Interprefy, was among those who have adopted a workation arrangement. Based in Bangkok, Thailand, Roocroft is in an enviable position – literally, as he is within reach of many beautiful resorts.

Roocroft has chosen to relocate to Koh Samui with his family this year, away from the populous capital to minimise Covid-19 exposure. They have been through five resorts so far. He has set up his desk at a beachfront restaurant, café and co-working space – anywhere with Wi-Fi and a plug for his laptop.

He has benefitted from more productive meetings, fewer interruptions, and time saved from office commute being channelled to leisure.

Varying acceptance
Roocroft’s ability to adopt a workation arrangement is made possible by his company’s flexible work approach. Interprefy specialises in cloud-based simultaneous interpretation solutions, and has a workforce of 180 spread across five continents.

He explained: “Some work from home, some like to change location every now and then. One of my team members even works out of a camper van, and he is on a constant trip through Europe.

“Being a fully remote company, we really don’t mind where someone decides to work from, as long the environment allows them to get the job done. As a result, we see many of our European team now travelling around freely, and it is an absolute pleasure to follow their working adventures on Instagram.”

India’s Microtek International recently gathered its key leadership for a workation at a resort. Subodh Gupta, chairman and managing director, said it was a nice change from the work-from-home norm.

“It offered us an opportunity to meet each other in person and discuss the company’s roadmap. We had our meetings in open spaces, which was a relaxing change after being confined to our home for so long. What made it different from incentive trips or teambuilding programmes was that we abided by the usual office hours, and unwound only in the evening,” said Gupta.

The outcome was a more energetic and motivated team, he concluded.
While Ian Cummings, global head of CWT Meetings & Events, acknowledges that workation is the “new buzzword following on from staycations”, he said his company has yet to see clients evolving their corporate policy to support this phenomenon.

He explained: “Companies are looking at this on a case-by-case basis. Given the focus around travel and event costs at present, it is not likely that organisations would overspend.”

Clients are maintaining their reimbursement policies. “If it was an expendable activity before, it is expendable now. That is a sensible way forward. We are not seeing an appetite for increased costs, such as Wi-Fi, calls or meals just because someone has decided to work from an alternative location,” he told TTGmice.

That said, Cummings reflected that the workation trend is worth watching. According to research company Axios, 74 per cent of surveyed remote workers said they would consider taking a workation.

CWT Meetings & Events’ own poll earlier this year with 200,000 LinkedIn followers found that 60.5 per cent of those surveyed cited the uniqueness or attractiveness of a destination as the most influential factor in deciding to take a workation.

He said: “It really underlines that employees are interested in combining business and pleasure when travelling. All the more reason to take this phenomenon seriously, although I believe interest in a workation depends on job function and likely seniority in an organisation.”

“Perhaps, some businesses might change their policies if workations remained popular and if it was a necessity to boost traveller satisfaction rates,” he mused.

Elsa Kimy Yue, spokesperson for Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa, has seen some resistance from corporate travel and HR managers to include workation packages into their travel or staff welfare programmes.

“Employers feel that workation is a personal choice and costs should not be on the company. However, our clients have conveyed details of our Dream B-Leisure Lifestyle Package to their staff, and we offer a discount for personal bookings that come through the corporate channel,” she said.

Richard Roocroft’s extended workation around Koh Samui has given him some inspiring views from his desk

A business opportunity
Workations are an opportunity for accommodation operators to tap into a new segment of travellers who are looking to escape from lockdown fatigue. For many, the workcation trend is both a lifeline amid suppressed travel and tourism business and a recovery catalyst.

Marriott International was among the first to offer a workation programme. Work Anywhere with Marriott Bonvoy packages fall into three categories – Day Pass, Stay Pass and Play Pass – and are available at select hotels in certain cities worldwide.

“Working remotely doesn’t necessarily have to mean working from home, where blurred lines between personal and professional lives can create distractions and stress,” Stephanie Linnartz, group president – consumer operations, technology & emerging businesses, had said during the programme’s launch in October 2020.

Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Centara Hotels & Resorts followed earlier this year with their own workcation campaign.

The Great Relocate by Hyatt Hotels Corporation offers a flat rate for long-term stays with a minimum 29-day booking for hotels across South-west Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Centara Hotels & Resorts’ Work From Hotel packages are available across Thailand, offering extended stays from two weeks to a month at reduced rates. The initiative came about as Centara saw a surge in remote workers, some with children in tow, looking to escape for “a significant period of time” to pastures new such as beaches or the countryside amid the pandemic, said Tom Thrussell, vice president of brand, marketing and digital.

A trend was also emerging of Bangkok-based residents migrating to different areas, like coastal towns, to escape the city’s air pollution, he added. Top locations are those most accessible from Bangkok, such as Pattaya and Phuket, and the packages attract a mix of Thai and expatriate residents.

Melia Ho Tram in Vietnam offers the Teleworking in Paradise programme, which appealed to guests wanting to “escape the city with their family and stay at the resort for longer periods, as it is a place for them to work and relax with their family during the pandemic”, shared Ha Minh Thu, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.

Bookings come from both individuals and companies, and the guests themselves are mostly CEOs and high-level executives from Ho Chi Minh City. Most would work in their villa, with an occasional request for a meeting room to conduct video conferences.

Vibhas Prasad, director of India’s Leisure Hotels Group, has been welcoming local workation groups. He said guests prioritise “comfortable workspace in the room and at select areas across the resort where they can work undisturbed”. Also in demand are high-speed Wi-Fi, IT support, quality meals whenever they want, and entertainment.

Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa’s Yue observed that most workation guests would work in their room, although the luxury property invites guests to work out of anywhere on the sprawling grounds. She pointed to the resort’s many green lawns, poolside cabanas, LeBar’s quiet corners that overlook the pool as well as the sea-facing patio at The Cliff restaurant as some ideal work spaces.

Flexibility is key in the resort’s Dream B-Leisure Lifestyle workation offering. Guests are granted more than 10 complimentary amenities, included in both the DayDream Pass which comes without a guestroom and the DayLifestyle Pass which comes with an overnight stay. Numerous add-ons are available, such as free-flow alcoholic beverages, a three-course meal, spa access, and an hour-long yoga session.

Yue said: “Some things are essentials now – speedy Wi-Fi, coffee and tea, for instance. So, we have to offer more than these basics to elevate the workation experience for our guests. People are working longer hours as a result of the work-from-home arrangement, and are feeling more exhausted easily because they now have to balance work and family duties.

“As a resort that offers a workation programme, we have to provide valuable conveniences, be it access to quality meals that guests do not have to prepare for themselves, a rejuvenating spa or swim, or activities that will keep their children occupied while they focus on work.”

Recognising that “there needs to be a balance in work and play for someone to remain passionate about their professional duties”, Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa has made available many wellness options to workation guests. Soon to come is a private yacht option for guests to unwind in style.

Will demand last?
Hoteliers are confident that the workation trend is here to stay, even after the pandemic is contained and normal work resumes, now that more people have had a taste of blending remote work with pleasure.

Prasad noticed that India’s young workforce, those aged 20 to 45, have adapted well to remote work, and this segment will continue to drive demand for workations “long after the Covid-19 impact becomes redundant”.

Yue expects workation demand to fluctuate by seasons, such as peaking during long school breaks “when children are off but parents are not”.
She added: “There are companies that have chosen to permanently adopt a full or partial remote work arrangement. Their staff will therefore continue to have the option to work from anywhere, even at a resort where they can balance work and play.”

Cummings is less optimistic. “As popular as a workation seems to be now, I am not sure if it will hold much weight for organisations when we are exiting the pandemic,” he said.

“Again, it really depends on the job function: there are many jobs where it doesn’t matter if you are behind your desk in a Singapore office or in a cottage in the French Alps. But where face-to-face teamwork and collaboration are necessary or where it is compulsory to come into the office one or two days a week, then a workation will not really work,” he added.

Benson Tang, executive director of Corporate Travel Community, Informa Markets, believes that a “distinct separation of work and leisure” is necessary, and that face-to-face interaction at work triumphs over the isolation of work-from-home arrangements.

As such, Tang believes that remote work will likely be replaced by a hybrid work model post-Covid, which will result in demand for workations being phased out.

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