The MICE opportunity in leisure hospitality

The bleisure trend is here to stay and the MICE market is recovering fast, but the nature of demand has fundamentally shifted. How can hospitality capture the minds and the purses of the corporate segment with an offer that mixes the business and leisure experience?

“What is changing is the ability for somebody to pack the laptop and just work somewhere for three months, and that is entirely different from just spending the weekend away,” explains Dominic Seyrling, managing director of Archer Hotel Capital, which has 11 hotels across Europe. “There are definitely types and areas of our industry that do better at catering to that,” he adds.

The prevalence of the ‘bleisure’ traveller is perhaps difficult to quantify in data at this point. “[At] not a single one of our properties I’m able to point to a change in average length of stay at all, so I struggle with the fact that that component of it is really changing,” says Seyrling. However, changes in customer behaviour are being observed on the ground.

Flagworld Group’s head of business development Rita Pereira says the group is seeing an increasing number of its corporate guests extend their stay over the weekends and are subsequently coming to reception asking for different channels on the television or more minibar items as their requirements change.

“We also need to think about some leisure complementing those hotels, whether it is in terms of product or service. It’s someone who is there for business, but we need to give them something extra. It’s about combining, not just extending,” says Pereira.

On the other hand, the group’s Monchique resort in the Algarve is seeing increasing demand for events and companies wanting to do smaller meetings, she says: “We need to be flexible, to be able to transform a bar in a meeting room or the restaurant into a disco in order to be able to give that kind of demand an answer.”

Bringing leisure into the corporate segment

As a result, traditional leisure properties are investing in catering to the remote worker, while corporate hotels are looking to increase their leisure offerings, although the approach depends on the location and real estate. Archer Hotel Capital, for instance, is investing heavily in making its corporate hotels “look more resort”. The focus, says Seyrling, is mainly on the design and aesthetic, such as removing the desks from bedrooms.

“A MICE customer is happy to be at a conference in a resort,” he argues. “If they need to work an hour at their computer, they can do this from a nice sofa, it doesn’t need to be a desk. For bleisure customers, you probably need to make sure that your internet is spot-on, that’s the single most important thing. You want to make sure that your Teams call doesn’t break down, but other than that, the whole point of bleisure is that you can do it from anywhere, so I don’t think you need to materially change much other than maybe the design.”

Flagworld Group, meanwhile, which has almost 1,800 rooms, is trying to ensure its corporate hotels can also appeal to these guests when they ‘clock off’ by thinking ‘outside the room’.

“Common areas are a big part of our product now,” says Pereira. “We are doing simple common areas because sometimes we are talking about two- to three-star hotels, we don’t need to have big facilities or amenities, but we need to have a bar, outdoor space, some equipment like bikes for people to explore the surroundings or the city. In each location we are thinking about how we can work the different segments.”

Business travel extending the season for resorts

Melia Hotels International is doing the opposite to try and extend the season for its resorts, says Jorge Herrera, head of development for Southern Europe, by developing more conference facilities, meeting rooms and conference centres around its properties in leisure destinations such as Costa Del Sol and Majorca. Managing the Palma Convention Centre, for example, has allowed the group to keep its six hotels in the city open 12 months a year.

“The big difference is what’s happening to the city hotels in the summertime,” he says. “What’s happening in Madrid, Seville, and Paris between July and August, hotels that in the past were empty, in our case we were even closing some of our hotels [in the summer], and we are now reaching the same average occupancy that we have in November or March.”

The opportunities in hotel subscriptions

Other brands, meanwhile, are exploring the opportunities in subscriptions, such as Accor’s All Plus and Selina’s CoLive. Seyrling is of the opinion it’s too early to judge the value of these kinds of subscriptions, but “it makes a lot of sense”, he says.

“They are able to detach their income stream from the real estate that they’ve got,” he points out. “There is something to be done with memberships – the question is if it can be one on a big scale?”

All those quoted in the article appeared on stage at the Resort & Residential (R&R) Hospitality Forum held in Lisbon between October 9 and 11, in a session called: Bleisure World: The MICE Opportunity in Leisure Hospitality.