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Illustration by Michael Austin

Travel Security: Bleisure on the Horizon

Why waste a trip? Business travelers are increasingly leveraging company-paid plane fare to extend business trips into vacations, but this raises questions of coverage and duty of care.

Bleisure travel—the act of tacking leisure travel onto a business trip—is a growing concept for travel and security managers to grapple with. Thirty-seven percent of North American business travelers extended at least one work trip for leisure in the past year, according to a 2018 study from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). Millennials in particular took advantage of work trips for leisure excursions—48 percent extended a work trip in the past year, compared to 23 percent of baby boomers.

According to International SOS’s 2020 Travel Risk Outlook, the debate over whether an employer is responsible to cover bleisure travel as part of employee duty of care will escalate in 2020.

International SOS found that only 22 percent of organizations include bleisure travel in their travel policies. While some companies say employers should be fully responsible for employees who travel for work—whether they extend trips for personal travel or not—others argue that leisure should be separate from work.

Erika Weisbrod, director of security solutions, Americas, for International SOS, wrote in the Travel Risk Outlook that organizations debating how to address the leisure side of business trips should consider several factors.

For instance, can supporting bleisure travel be used as an enhanced employee benefit that makes the workplace more attractive for job applicants? What reputational risk does the organization face if an employee is stranded or harmed while traveling without company support? How can organizations use leisure time coverage to educate employees about travel risk? What additional costs might the organization incur for covering employees’ leisure time on business travel?


“A lot of approaches to leisure or bleisure travel are being adopted and tested by organizations, but the practice is evolving; there is no right or wrong answer,” Weisbrod wrote.

Bleisure travel forms a “gray area” of travel risk that organizations must address. This is in addition to determining policy around shared economy services (rideshares, homestays, or Airbnb bookings) and special considerations for travelers with specific risk profiles, such as women, LGBTQ travelers, or those with disabilities, says Matthew Bradley, regional security director, Americas, for International SOS.

Bradley adds that a best practice is to extend travel support coverage or insurance to cover bleisure travel. By making travel booking and safety coverage seamless, employees are more likely to follow company policies—and safety recommendations—while on the road, whether working or not.

Another option is to include pers­onal itineraries in business travel booking. This enables the organization to more effectively track travelers worldwide and deliver timely information or resources based on their locations.

Millennials are more likely to extend a business trip for leisure time, and their travel patterns and risk appetites necessitate additional consideration, Bradley notes.

“In our experience, [millennials’] travel patterns do equate to more risk exposure—younger travelers go out and explore, engaging in local life, which is inherently riskier than staying in the hotel for the duration of the trip,” he says.

The Travel Risk Index noted that younger generation business travelers’ digital experience makes them more alert to potential risks, and they are apt to research locations extensively before visiting. Their digital-first mentality can lead to oversharing online, which could put travelers at risk. But Bradley warns against pigeonholing millennials as “dangerous travelers.”

“Millennial travelers are just another specific profile,” Bradley says. “Travel programs are not one-size-fits-all; it’s important to develop training and services for these different subgroups.”

This extends to leisure travel as well, he notes. To encourage engagement with profile-specific training, such as guidance for an LGBTQ employee or someone with a disability, it could behoove organizations to offer confidential risk briefings.

The Travel Risk Index gave five recommendations for organizations covering bleisure travel: clarify and communicate travel policies with employees; provide resources to employees about location-based risk and any changes to the risk landscape during travel due to demonstrations, terrorism, or natural hazards; where possible, capture travel itineraries, including those booked through travel management companies or uploaded by employees; keep updated emergency contact information; and assist first, cover costs later.


“If you have an employee in need of urgent, emergent care or assistance, and you are able to assist, provide them with the resources to help as a priority; whether the costs will be covered by your organization can be discussed after the situation has stabilized,” Weisbrod wrote.

Some organizations have long con­tended with bleisure travel. At U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), which establishes public standards and programs to ensure medicine and food quality and safety, employees and volunteers from China or India often wish to stay longer to visit friends or family when traveling abroad for the organization. To better accommodate the volume of bleisure travel, USP’s travel insurance policy allows extra time for personal travel on business trips.

Taking this approach gives the organization an advantage—employees book the leisure extensions to business travel through the company’s travel program, giving USP the ability to approve and track itineraries, explains USP Global Security Director Ira Russ. This oversight also means employees are more likely to comply with policies, says Russ.

Every employee or volunteer going on a trip for USP completes its travel security program, which is overseen by USP’s Global Security Department. The global security team meets at least weekly with the employee travel team to discuss pending trips to high-risk locations or evolving security situations abroad that could affect employees. Every trip request is sent over to travel security for review, risk determination, and a security check. All flights and plans must be security approved, Russ says, including dates, locations, airlines, and hotels. Business travelers are required to attend security briefings before every high-risk trip.

“If you’re going for work, everything is vetted,” Russ says. When leisure travel is tacked on or employees travel for pure leisure, however, additional rules come into play.

If an employee traveling for USP in India plans to stop on his or her way home to visit family in Iran, for example, USP needs to know. USP materials are prohibited from entering sanctioned countries, such as Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, Russ says, and the employee would not be permitted to travel to those locations with work laptops or files.

If an employee wanted to visit a high- or emerging-risk country for personal travel, such as Nigeria or Papua New Guinea, there are certain insurance limitations that could bar USP from providing its usual level of assistance in an emergency. Pre-travel briefings would alert employees to these risks and provide guidance on what to do if assistance is needed, Russ says.

“We try to be explicit with our information and communicate clearly where assistance is available and what coverage we have,” he adds. “We try to be proactive in collecting travel information instead of waiting for managers to tell us we have someone in a situation abroad.”

If travel information is booked in the company’s travel system—whether for a business trip or personal time—risk information is proactively shared, including intelligence about government actions, travel restrictions, and screening procedures. Notifications are sent in an escalating scale, depending on the urgency of the information: emails, telephone calls, mass notification alerts to travelers’ devices, and notices to the travelers’ managers.

In the level of communication and risk awareness, “we treat all travel the same,” Russ says.