Mixing business with leisure

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Conferencing in Cape Town – what a pleasure. Great post-seminar entertainment, excellent accommodation and, after the meetings, an extended stay so you can visit a couple of wine estates and get in some beach time. Come to think of it, why not get your wife and kids to join you?

This mindset is becoming increasingly common, informs Claude Vankeirsbilck, Chief Sales Officer at Tourvest Travel Services. In fact, the ‘staycation’ is a growing phenomenon, one that has picked up speed over the last two years, as people have sought to optimise their travel time during difficult economic conditions.

In a sense, this is nothing new. After all, businesspeople travelling overseas have often negotiated with their companies to have their spouses join them, especially for longer trips. And companies have proved most amenable, frequently granting permission for the traveller to swap their business-class ticket for two economy fares. The benefits for the company as well as the individual are clear: even with two tickets, flying economy is more cost effective than business class, while a happy employee is a productive one. The same holds true for local travellers. From the individual’s perspective, the recession has meant, for many, that long, lazy holidays in exotic locales are just not a reality, whereas a shorter break, in a destination where you’ve already settled in for a few days, is just as relaxing but easier on the pocket.

Once again, the rewards are there for the organisation. Vankeirsbilck points out that if an employee flies up to, say, Durban, for a Friday meeting, his return ticket can be arranged for a time outside of peak periods, which means a saving for the company. What’s more, allowing an extended stay, or agreeing to let the individual’s family join him, makes for greater work/life balance – an attitude increasingly embraced by forward-thinking companies as a top priority. Then, of course, there’s the added effectiveness of a refreshed, rejuvenated and relaxed employee.

That said, Vankeirsbilck acknowledges that staycations aren’t without potential drawbacks. For instance, organisations need to be able to trust that employees won’t extend their travel to the point where it impacts on their productivity. Taking this one step further, there’s the danger that less than scrupulous employees may schedule meetings to facilitate their mini-breaks, rather than the other way around.

But, he adds, these issues are easily dealt with by addressing them in the company’s travel policy. “For example, the policy should stipulate that all trips have been approved by an authoriser, preferably the individual’s line manager,” Vankeirsbilck advises. “It should also outline the company’s stance regarding leave taken during peak business flows, so that productivity isn’t interrupted.” Cost is something else that should be clarified in the policy. While some hotels charge per room, where it won’t matter if your spouse joins you, others have a per person rate – which will, of course, have implications for the company’s budget. “By implementing checks and balances, the company can ensure that it’s not compromised,” Vankeirsbilck says. “The key is to remove any ambiguous areas and ensure that employees are well informed. This removes potential misunderstandings, and all parties receive the benefits.”

Some companies may regard this as a little too much admin, Vankeirsbilck concedes – but then again, the payoff of work/life balance, for employees and organisations alike, is well worth the extra effort. But what do corporates themselves think? Sandy Badal, national travel manager at Anglo American, worries that productivity maybe compromised if employees embrace the trend too whole-heartedly. “Generally, our employees opt to travel without their spouses – a decision which is in line with our travel policy,” she explains. “There are occasions when spouses are invited to accompany the traveller, but this is neither the norm, nor the trend.” She adds that, when this does occur, additional charges are for the employee’s account. However, if exceptional circumstances require a partner to accompany the employee on a trip at the company’s expense, permission must be signed off by the business unit CEO, and necessary tax implications apply. 

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