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Remote and hybrid offices are allowing employees to work from anywhere -- and for some, that means the beach

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A work space at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto.Sheraton

Six weeks. Five countries. This summer, Erin Bury and her husband packed up their six-month-old baby and took a trip that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. “We had friends getting married in Tuscany and instead of just going over for the wedding, we thought why don’t we extend?”

It wasn’t just the fact that their infant isn’t crawling yet that made this summer opportune. Bury, the founder and CEO of online will-planning platform Willful, says she wanted to test out her own “work from anywhere” policy, a trend that’s blurring the lines between business and pleasure travel. Despite a push back to the office this summer for many businesses, nearly half of Canadian employers are extending remote work to attract and retain talent, according to data from the staffing firm Robert Half.

“Our trip never, ever would have been possible in past jobs, or if COVID hadn’t happened,” Bury says. “In my previous role, I ran a marketing agency for six years and even though we had work from home policies, there was a perception it was something you did occasionally and that people working from home weren’t as productive. I was not a work from home person myself.”

Not only has Bury come around – Willful now subleases its Toronto office space – but her company has introduced new policies, such as greater schedule flexibility built around mandatory but abbreviated “core hours” to ensure overlap across time zones, to enable employees to collaborate while working from wherever they want. “We have someone working from Colombia right now, from Ireland, from Paris, you name it,” she says.

But it’s not just employers who are shifting to meet the needs of travelling staffers. For many such workers, WFH doesn’t mean “work from home”; it means “work from hotel.” And in the rush to become their new home – and office – both new and legacy hotel brands are moving to address their needs.

“Hotel rooms were really built for a world where we lived at home and worked at the office and just stayed overnight in the hotel room,” says Will Lucas, founder and CEO of the hotel group Mint House. “But that’s not really what many of us are doing any more. The traditional hotel room becomes less and less palatable the longer you’re staying there. You’re going to want a kitchen, you’re going to want groceries, you’ll want a dedicated workspace, because instead of just sleeping and showering there, you’ll need a place to actually work.”

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Mint House at 70 Pine in New York City.Handout

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Mint House Miami.Mint House

More than a quarter of employed Canadians – and 38 per cent of Gen Z workers and 35 per cent of millennials – planned to take a blended business and leisure trip, referred to as “bleisure” within the travel industry, this year according to booking engine Kayak.

But there’s no one way to workcation. For nearly seven in 10 workers, such a trip typically lasts between one and four weeks, while roughly 10 per cent of trips are shorter than that, as people tack on a few extra days at a conference destination or add a couple of work days to extend a long weekend getaway. And more than 20 per cent leverage remote work policies to travel for a month or more, found a U.S. survey by Passport Photo Online.

Either way, the workcation trend means more nights away from home and heightened requirements for where you stay. Vacation home rentals once seemed a natural fit. But with the average cost of one night in a studio or one-bedroom in Toronto on Airbnb now clocking in at just $33 less (before cleaning and service fees) than a hotel, as a recent analysis by the hospitality data companies STR and AirDNA found, and social media backlash over associated fees and house rules, there’s an opening for brands that can offer the best of both worlds.

The good, the great and the meh of hotel loyalty reward programs

“We’re taking the very best elements of a traditional hotel and the very best elements of a high-end Airbnb and putting them together,” Lucas says of Mint House, which has 23 fully serviced apartment-style properties in 14 U.S. cities. “It’s the consistency, reliability, trust and security that you would get in a branded hotel but combined with the comfort, amenities and privacy that you get at an Airbnb. We call it residential hospitality.”

Mint House launched in 2017 and its leadership includes veterans of Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which was acquired by Marriott in 2016. “The trend we saw coming was probably accelerated by 10 years because of the pandemic,” Lucas says.

With an inventory that includes both entire hotels and dedicated floors within residential buildings, the company focuses on technology to bridge the gap. “We power Mint House with a fully mobile and digital guest experience,” he says. “Digital check-in, keyless entry through your phone. … We have a program called Stock Your Stay so through SMS or the app you can order groceries and they’ll be in the fridge when you walk in the door. We offer live exercise classes through a partnership with Fitness Mirror in many of the rooms.” Mint House at 70 Pine, the group’s 132-suite New York property, was the highest-rated hotel in the U.S. on TripAdvisor for 2021.

But it’s not just upstarts trying to capture this growing segment. Marriott has seen a 15-per-cent increase in stay length in suite-level rooms among bleisure travellers at its brands across Canada and is trialling 13 new room prototypes at its Bethesda Design Lab, an experimental hotel adjacent to the company’s international headquarters. The hotel group has grown inventory for its vacation rental offering, Marriott Homes and Villas, from 2,000 homes to more than 76,000 since launching in 2019.

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The lobby of the Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain.Brandon Barré Photography/Handout

Don Cleary, president of Marriott Hotels of Canada, says its Bonvoy program, one of the largest hotel loyalty programs in the world, is a big differentiator for bleisure guests because it offers ways to offset the cost of an extended trip, and the ability to connect with unique local experiences during off-work hours is integrated into the app and booking process. Ninety per cent of Homes and Villas bookings are from Bonvoy members, outpacing member bookings at Marriott’s hotel properties, Cleary says. “We’re the only one in this space where you can both earn and use Bonvoy points to book. That’s proving very popular for this mix of work and play.”

With workspaces, consistency and convenience addressed, the resort brand Selina is focused on improving the last missing piece: community. While cost and time zone differences were cited as key challenges associated with workcations in Passport Photo Online’s survey, nearly one in five people say loneliness is a detractor from this type of travel.

At Selina’s 150 properties around the world, accommodations range from dorm-style rooms to luxury suites, targeted at Gen Zs and millennials who’ve outgrown the hostel scene. Selina co-founder and CEO Rafael Museri sees facilitating connections between guests as his brand’s biggest opportunity, even going so far as to make guests’ new friendships a key performance indicator for the company. “Over 50 per cent of our customers say they made a friend staying with us,” Museri says.

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Selina's Tulum property.Selina

While the company has invested heavily in workspaces and WiFi delivery across its global resorts, Museri believes wellness and music programming – from full moon ceremonies and surf lessons in Costa Rica to a three-day music festival in Morocco next month – are the company’s secret sauce.

Selina is also trying out subscription models and a points credit card to make resort-hopping more seamless and cost efficient – both for solo travel or with those new friends. “Travelling to one hotel for three days and then another for three days, if I’m going to stay in hotels and work … that’s not easy to do,” Museri says. “We want to package the whole experience into one bucket.”

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