Feb. 8, 2023 - Remember the days of going on a business trip and squeezing in some extra time for sightseeing and fun? Remember feeling lucky if your employer let you push your return flight beyond the official business trip’s end so you could do that?
That was more the norm for many workers before 2020, before the pandemic rocked our worlds.
The pandemic changed how many of us approach the work-life balance, where people can and do work and how we work. We discovered we do not have to be in an office to be ‘at work.’ Internet, Wi-Fi, and VPNs make it possible, for example, to be sitting on the beach, working as the family enjoys time in the sun and sand. Or now a hotel room in Nashville is your office by day, then at night you and your friends are soaking up the country music resonating across Music City USA.
The workplace is changing and as it does the passenger profile for airports everywhere, including Charlotte Douglas International Airport, is changing.
Before the pandemic business and leisure travel was nearly evenly split 50-50%. Business travel plummeted in 2020 due to the pandemic and the proliferation of virtual meetings. At the same time, cheaper plane tickets (and people tired of being cooped up after quarantine) pushed leisure travel to 76% of CLT’s business. Business travel dropped to just 17%.
One need only spend some time people watching in our terminal to see there are fewer business suits these days and hundreds of more casually dressed singles, families, and vacationers. What we see now is the leisure traveler carrying everything they need to work wherever their destination is.
This blended, or bleisure, traveler has always been among us. There are more of them now. Based on CLT passenger survey responses in 2022, blended travelers comprised 5% of passengers at CLT, up strikingly from 2% in 2019 before the pandemic struck. Business travelers, in those same surveys, increased from 17% during the pandemic to 22% percent in 2022.
According to Travel Weekly, blended travel is more than a bit of pre- or post-work fun. Business travelers want more flexibility, and companies are beginning to cater more to those who want to work remotely for a few extra weeks or just want to work from anywhere but the office.
The changing workplace, employer flexibility, ease of staying virtually connected all add up to a slower than normal return of business travel to pre-pandemic dominance. In 2022, business travel had minimally ticked up to 22 percent of CLT passengers. We will be watching to see where it goes next.