Fewer workers tack on vacations to business trips

In weak economy, fewer people tack vacations onto business trips.

— -- Fewer business travelers are expected to bring their spouse, kids, golf clubs or sightseeing shoes on future business trips, new studies and booking trends indicate.

The down economy means fewer people can afford to tack on vacation time to a trip, and fewer people are willing to risk the negative perceptions that may exist about travel perks, says Peter Yesawich of Ypartnership, an Orlando-based travel research and marketing firm.

The economy is expected to speed the decline in dual-purpose trips, he says, but the trend has been falling out of favor for about seven years.

Only about 30% of business travelers said they brought along their spouse or kids — or just added some alone time — before, during or after a business trip in the past year, according to the Ypartnership/Yankelovich National Leisure Travel Monitor released in May. In 2000, 60% said they'd combined trips. Yesawich estimates the rate would be even lower today. "People would say, 'It's all about serious business now,' " he says.

Michael Steiner of Ovation Corporate Travel, a Manhattan-based agency, says Ovation's corporate clients are especially cutting their weekend stays on domestic trips.

"Last year, they were more apt to stay a Friday and Saturday night, but this year, they're coming home," he says.

Phil Lapp, a snack foods sales manager from Lancaster, Pa., who's on the road about half the time, says he hasn't combined trips in several years, due to the increasingly competitive business environment and the demands of having two young children, ages 4 and 2. He doesn't plan to do anything differently next year.

"Traveling now is difficult enough, but when you factor in trying to coordinate family schedules with business meetings, it creates a chaotic and sometimes distracting environment," he says.

Reasons fewer people are combining trips:

•Appearances. Travelers are more aware of co-workers' and superiors' attitude toward perceived perks as companies slash jobs and expenses, says Michael Batt, chairman of Travel Acquisitions Group, the parent of Travel Leaders travel agency chain.

"Even though it's entirely justified and OK, it gives the wrong message at this particular time," Batt says. He estimates that less than a third of people who would've done this a year ago would still do so today. Extravagant travel, such as when the Detroit auto company CEOs flew to Washington in corporate jets to ask for bailout money, stands out today, he says.

•Pressure. With travel expenses increasingly scoured by chief financial officers instead of travel managers, business travelers feel greater pressure to produce results to justify their expenses, Yesawich says. Travelers are also reducing their trip length due to new or newly enforced company travel policies to cut costs, which further discourages extending trips for personal reasons, Steiner says.

Frequent traveler Kevin Cox of Plainview, N.Y., used to add vacation days and fly his wife down to Orlando, where he occasionally has business. They would visit Disney World or SeaWorld, he says. But these days, they're taking fewer dual-purpose trips, even though it saves them money on airfare. Cox says he's unsure whether combining trips could have repercussions in this climate. "Does the boss hold it against you?" he wonders. Co-workers could also view it as a perk that they don't get.

•Desire for down time. Randy Bates of Waukesha, Wis., says he finds it more relaxing "to spend vacation time by itself and not intermixed with work." Nick Milburn, an auditor from Sarasota, Fla., who hasn't combined trips in eight years, also says the hectic pace of a business trip isn't as conducive to vacations. He says he sees more stressed faces in airports.

"It's my sense that a lot of us business travelers are on tight time frames to get the week's assignment of work completed and get back home to meet the needs of home life," Milburn says.

Travelers won't see many hotels trying to encourage these types of trips anymore, because they're focusing harder on retaining non-discretionary business trips, Yesawich says. "Most travel suppliers are just grateful to have the core business — the business trip itself," he says.

Some hotels and destinations, however, continue to see opportunity.

Seattle, which has eight Fortune 500 companies based in the region and has a healthy convention business, expects to keep drawing more dual-purpose visitors, says Tom Norwalk, CEO of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau. More business travelers, for instance, have been tacking on cruises before and after their trips, he says.

And the Cambria Suites at the airport at Savannah, Ga. — where a night's stay costs around $100 a room — has continued to see around 15% of business guests stay an extra day, even during the stock market's meltdown, says Hal Smith, the hotel's general manager. Some guests bring golf clubs to play in the area, though most stay longer to take tours and enjoy the city's historic district, he says.

Since the trend has endured this fall, Smith next year plans to offer new golf and tour packages to help offset the decline in business travel.

"That will encourage people to stay an extra day," Smith says, "so instead of leaving Thursday afternoon, they might stay through Friday or Saturday."