Travel

An upswing in downhill dealings

The view from a room at Keystone Conference Center in Keystone, Colo.

Bob Winsett/Vail Resorts

The view from a room at Keystone Conference Center in Keystone, Colo.

Fueled by the ability to stay connected on the move, blurring the line between business and leisure travel is becoming more common. In summer, it’s not unusual to see business travelers with family members in tow, but how many families mix work and play in winter, particularly at ski resorts?

Just as golfers have clinched decades of deals over birdies and bogeys, increasingly more skiers and snowboarders are taking work out of the office and onto their favorite pistes. Not only that, they are also bringing spouses and kids along for the downhill dealing.

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Researchers have recently identified this phenomenon, calling it “blurring” or “bleisure.” A blurring study by Pullman and research institute IPSOS found that 43 percent of international travelers always take their professional mobile devices with them on holiday or weekend trips. Wi-Fi connectivity is therefore a paramount consideration for resorts hoping to attract this mobile market.

At Vail Resorts, the growing trend in working remotely is fostering bleisure travel. “We’re regularly seeing requests from meeting and event organizers for pre- and post-event rates to extend to attendees so that they can extend their visits to our resorts,” says Tina Sampson, vice president of sales. Many business groups host early- morning and evening seminars so participants can ski with families or friends during the day. The millennial urge for “transformational” experiences, Sampson says, is putting significant pressure on planners to deliver — and winter sports are a great fit. “Some of these experiences can be woven right into their programs at our resorts with unique outdoor, on-mountain teambuilding activities that are part of the conference experience, but could not be done in a traditional hotel or downtown location,” she notes.

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For 1,300 participants at Qualtrics Insight Summit in Utah earlier this year, bleisure was a given. The four-day techie conference, based at the Grand America in Salt Lake City, included its own free ski day — attended by 60 percent of delegates. To make it seamless, Ski Butlers can deliver equipment directly to hotel rooms. And it’s not unusual for spouses and partners to be seen incongruously sporting ski gear among smartly suited delegates in the lobbies of both the Grand and the Little America hotels.

The ski-ride day is a highlight, says Qualtrics spokesman Mike Maughan: “This past year we went to Park City Mountain Resort. We have expert skiers who teach classes or take groups of clients out. We provide ski bibs to all attendees so it’s easy to see who else is with the Qualtrics group, so no one has to ski alone.” Sporting Qualtrics hockey jerseys, conference staff — on skis, of course — give guidance at every turn, gathering the group for a hosted lunch back at base.

Skiing facilitates a platform to solidify relationships, Maughan explains: “While you may not remember sitting next to someone in a breakout session for 45 minutes, you remember sharing a chairlift ride and skiing down the mountain in one of the most beautiful places on earth.” Qualtrics’s aim is work-life integration within the business environment. “We want our attendees to always be wondering, what is coming next? We infuse fun wherever we can. This includes the ski day, a private concert [Journey, last year], casino night, entertaining speakers, etc.,” says Maughan.

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Choosing the 5-Diamond Grand America Hotel for the conference is also strategic, with its quick access to airport and ski hills and alluring views of the mountains. Maughan expects an increase in participation at next year’s summit, aiming for around 75 percent attendance at the Park City ski day planned for Feb. 19.

A new collective working space in Frisco, Colo., is helping mobile businesspeople blur work with skiing. Offering drop-in and member rates, ELEVATE coSPACE provides short- and long-term workspace with fast Wi-Fi and high-tech conference rooms. It was purposely positioned close to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone. Founder Amy Kemp says she’s responding to a changing trend toward freelance and location-neutral workers whose numbers are estimated to reach 40 percent to 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. “We’re seeing that more and more visitors are working during their vacations to Summit County,” Kemp says. “We’re also seeing an increasing number of second homeowners or ‘seasonal transplants’ who move to the mountains for an extended period of time — for some it’s a month. Others, it’s a whole season.”

A free day of skiing is offered to attendees of a four-day tech conference, hosted by Qualtrics, in Salt Lake City.

Bob Winsett/Vail Resorts

A free day of skiing is offered to attendees of a four-day tech conference, hosted by Qualtrics, in Salt Lake City.

Better Internet connectivity is opening up mountainous areas to this trend. And the millennial spirit of entrepreneurship is contributing too: “One of the biggest attractions to being an entrepreneur is control — over your work and your schedule,” says Kemp. And, she says, blurring also has value for companies which can save money and time, and often get better results, from freelancers, contractors, and non-office-bound workers. “Their employees tend to be happier and healthier because they have a more flexible schedule and live where they want to live — or work while on vacation,” Kemp believes.

Through the Mountain CoWorking Alliance, Kemp has linked ELEVATE with 11 independently owned co-working spaces in other ski areas — including Jackson Hole, Revelstoke, Tahoe, Park City, Durango, Avon (close to Vail and Beaver Creek) and Chamonix, France. Enabling two free days of work at each venue for members, this concept mirrors the latest collective ski passes — such as the Epic, Mountain Collective, and MAX passes — which offer multiresort access. And, in a nod to ski in-ski out demand, ELEVATE is opening a satellite branch at the base of Peak 9 in Breckenridge this season.

More business travelers are blurring and tacking on extra days to make the most of their work-tourism opportunities. In a bleisure study, Bridge-Street Global Hospitality found that 60 percent of international travelers have combined business with leisure travel in the past, with around 30 percent of respondents adding two vacation days onto business trips. And more than half of these bleisure travelers bring their families with them.

Banff Lake Louise, in Alberta, often tops the winter wish list for US skiers. And Channin Liedtke, director of sales and marketing for Lake Louise Inn, says that conference delegates have been bringing their families there for decades. “I think that it’s less about the blurring of the work-pleasure line and more about Lake Louise being a bucket list destination,” says Liedtke. “Spending three days indoors for meetings in Lake Louise without doing anything in the mountains should be illegal.”

Louise Hudson can be reached at louise.hudson2011@gmail.com.
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