Balancing Act: How Workcations are Reshaping Travel in Asia

Balancing Act: How Workcations are Reshaping Travel in Asia

Many of us got used to the work-from-home lifestyle amid Covid-19 lockdowns, and with many companies adopting hybrid office environments, workcations could shape the future of travel for many employees looking to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Workcations, AKA ‘working on vacation’, although not entirely new, has gained significant popularity in recent years, especially during the pandemic. This might seem contradictory, but with the growing prevalence of remote and hybrid work arrangements, as well as the emergence of digital nomads, the idea of working from picturesque locations like Bali or combining work with exploring cultural marvels in Italy has, unsurprisingly, become appealing to many people. 

A recent IWG study revealed some interesting insights. It found that 88% of hybrid workers were flexible in choosing their work locations last year, and nearly 57% took advantage of this flexibility to extend their holidays while working from abroad. These statistics suggest that this trend has been well-received. More than two-thirds (67%) of workers feel confident in their ability to effectively work from a different location, and a substantial 71% stated they would only consider job opportunities that provide the option to work remotely, at least part of the time. The study also highlights that an improved work-life balance (76%) is the most frequently mentioned benefit of working from various locations. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels worldwide introduced work-friendly initiatives to entice guests to use their facilities for work. They introduced concepts like “daycations,” allowing guests to book a hotel room for a day to work in a different environment. In addition, they offered guests complimentary access to lounges, meeting rooms, and coffee workstations. 

It’s important to note that work-friendly hotels are not a new concept, many hotels have already implemented such initiatives to attract both businesses hosting large meetings (in the MICE sector) and digital nomads. As our world becomes more interconnected, the traditional definition of a “vacation” is evolving.  

Here’s how hotels in Asia have adapted to this trend: 

A Noticeable Uptick in “Workcations” 

Ovolo Hotels took a leading role in implementing quarantine-friendly measures during the pandemic in Hong Kong. Since restrictions have eased, they have noticed a resurgence in travellers seeking both work and leisure experiences. However, this resurgence has also brought about a noticeable shift in travel trends. 

 “Modern travelers have shifted their attitude and priorities in terms of what they are looking for in a hotel and its facilities; they want a hybrid holiday where they can do both,” said Ovolo Hotels’ Lucas Chanter, director of operations at Ovolo Hotels Hong Kong, “Those coming for business trips or vacations have adapted to more flexible working arrangements since the pandemic.” Chanter added that there have been a mix of digital nomads, entrepreneurs and individuals who need to stay connected to work while on vacation, and they’re often seen typing away at the hotel’s lounges and restaurants.  

Image Courtesy: Eaton House

Harvey Thompson, managing director of Eaton Workshop at Eaton agreed. “We’ve noticed more and more guests working from abroad,” he said, adding that having 24-hour access to Eaton House is an attractive perk especially for international guests who must be online for alternative time zones. “The work-from-home movement has evolved into a work-from-anywhere movement, and we’re thrilled to see this,” said Thompson. 

In Thailand, the Phrom Phong/Thonglor area has become a sought-after destination for digital nomads who want to be within proximity of Bangkok’s city centre, while enjoying some peace and quiet. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences’ general manager Nida Wongphanlert said that there has been a “significant increase in guests who are choosing to work while on holiday”. 

Wellness and Work, Wins 

It’s not just luxury hotels that have noticed an increase in guests working from abroad, as healthy holiday hunters also embark on retreats, while also being able to dial into work.  

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, an award-winning sustainable wellness resort in Vietnam’s Nha Trang region, sits on an island in a private bay, and is known for its immersive health-oriented retreat, but some guests go for the seclusion and breathtaking views in nature. “People have become more accustomed to work from remote places and it is has become more acceptable to work at your own pace – as long as deadlines are being met.  A workcation space can lead to higher creativity, productivity and thus profitability. A win-win for every stakeholder,” said general manager Benjamin Kreuz. 

Similarly in the Philippines’ immersive wellness retreat The Farm at San Benito, many guests are opting to work while enjoying their holiday at the property. “Many have found our tranquil and healing environment to be ideal for seamlessly integrating work with leisure,” said a rep from The Farm, “Our goal is to enhance the productivity, mental clarity, and overall well-being of our guests.” 

Not all retreats agree with this uptick. According to Chiva-Som International Health Resort’s general manager Vaipanya Kongkwanyuen, the wellness hub rarely sees guests working at its resort as they are there to achieve their health goals and completely detach from work. “By stepping away from screens, one can rekindle their relationship with nature, enhance physical well-being and foster a deeper sense of inner peace,” emphasises Kongkwanyuen. 

Benjamin Kreuz
Vaipanya Kongkwanyuen

Workcation-Friendly Features 

In addition to offering essential high-speed Wi-Fi, which is now a standard requirement for most hotels, particularly those in major cities, hotel groups have introduced novel strategies to entice remote workers to utilize their facilities for a workcation from overseas. For example, Ovolo provides multiple areas outside of guest rooms where guests can work, offering them a change of environment during their working hours. These include dedicated lounge areas with natural light so guests can plug into remote working experiences without feeling like they’re in a stuffy office, while listening to the signature upbeat soundtracks of the hotel. 

Eaton is another light and lively hub in Hong Kong’s busy Jordan district. “It’s a platform for creative expression, personal transformation, and meaningful social progress,” said Thompson, “Furthermore, our inspiring property is a fantastic place to get work done.” 

Eaton guests have access to the hotel’s two-floor, 24-hour co-working space with various work settings, including community desks, lounge tables, private offices, and an outdoor area near the Terrible Baby terrace cocktail bar. They also offer a diverse programme with activities like weekly breakfasts, masterclasses in areas such as French wine and AI, and wellness sessions like yoga and sound baths, fostering collaboration and work-life balance. Furthermore, the hotel envisions potential collaboration opportunities between guests from the creative industry and the hotel itself, emphasising a shared commitment to grassroots projects and artistic expression. 

“We encourage grassroots projects and artistic expression, and we believe that hanging out with fellow dreamers and doers is the best path toward a better world,” said Thompson. 

137 Pillars Suites & Residences offers the Daily Baan Borneo Club, providing benefits such as all-day breakfast, afternoon tea, coffee, snacks, and sundowner drinks. Additional features include Thai and aromatherapy massages, yoga, meditation, Muay Thai classes, access to the golf driving range, fitness centre, and a 24/7 rooftop pool. The residences also have kitchenettes and washer/dryer machines for extended stays. 

At Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, the two club lounges offer ample room to work comfortably while travelling. “The city’s increasing popularity as a destination for remote work and extended holidays is evident. Travel to Manila, both from abroad and domestically, has seen an uptick,” said Richard Simmons, the hotel’s general manager. 

Image Courtesy: Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, meanwhile, provides 24/7 room service which ensures guests are fully nourished anytime of the day. “To enhance workcation experience for our guests, we have an extensive room service menu, allowing you to work in the comfort of your room and take breaks to relax with enjoying the stunning views of Tokyo metropolis in the background,” said Mandarin Oriental Tokyo’s hotel manager Yoshihito Kaseda. 

Similarly, guests at Capella Bangkok have been quick to use the living room lounge, where they can enjoy all-day snacks and refreshments in a plush setting. “We have a wide array of work-friendly amenities available to our guests, and constantly work on enticing offers to make workcations more affordable and productive,” said Josephine Png, Capella Bangkok’s executive assistant manager. 

Charis Choi, Regional Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Southeast Asia at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, described how Grand Hyatt Singapore’s new “pods” and “nests” provide welcoming seating areas for meaningful conversations and connections at the property. “We recognise that there will be more ‘bleisure travellers’ who will be working remotely and will naturally find opportunities to recharge in their travel destinations. We anticipate more demand for opportunities to mix work and leisure as guests seek more than just travelling for work,” she added. 

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay promises seclusion and a clear mind for workers on the go, with private pool accommodations and a beach view as a backdrop to any working days. Sleep is of the upmost importance, as the resort supplies its accommodations with high quality pillows, mattresses and sleep trackers, all a part of our Sleep with Six Senses programme. “This year, we have just appointed our first-ever Wellness Director to keep continue improving our wellness aspects,” said Kreuz, “This particularly aimed at those looking for a sustainable work-life routine and proactively countering possible burnouts.” 

The Farm at San Benito also goes the extra mile to offer workcation-friendly amenities. There are a range of dedicated workspaces within guest accommodations equipped with ergonomic furniture, high-speed internet, and ample power outlets. Most areas around the resort are designated as quiet zones, so travellers can work without disturbances, and there are also meeting room facilities. It also has a designated Executive Health programme that not only supports executives in maintaining their work routines but also addresses common work-related stress-induced health concerns, including sleep therapy, mental health support, and pain management, covered by CIGNA Global Healthcare Insurance, showing our dedication and commitment to meeting the specific needs of business travellers.  

Although Chiva-Som Hua Hin encourages guests to refrain from working during their retreats, with a strict no mobile phones in public areas rule, it has provided guests with a multifunction room which provides necessary facilities in case they have meetings online or offline. 

What is Driving the Trend for “Workcations”? 

Workcations allow employees and contractors to enjoy working from destinations abroad to prolonged holidays, with many businesses of all sizes adopting the model in their employee benefits.  

The benefits are clear: people can travel the world, while generating enough income to keep going. “Modern technology means that today’s worker can, literally, work from anywhere,” explained Paul MacAndrew, country manager for IWG in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area, “The growth of hybrid working brings the flexibility to work how and where we want, whether it’s at home, at a flexible workspace close to home, at a central HQ – or indeed at any location with reliable Wi-Fi.” 

According to research from IWG, it’s likely that this trend will continue with 88% of workers looking at hybrid working as a key benefit to any new job. What’s more, over two-thirds (67%) of workers believe they can effectively perform their jobs from abroad, and a significant 71% say they would only consider a job that offers the flexibility to work remotely, at least part of the time. 

How did this start? Amid the pandemic, cities worldwide examined their infrastructure to find ways to accommodate both their residents and the increasing number of tourists looking to extend their stays. Currently, approximately 30 countries provide digital nomad visas. “The move to introduce visas for digital nomads not only boosts the local economy but also sets the stage for a new era of work and travel in the world,” said MacAndrew. 

In the research, IWG identified the most workcation-friendly cities in 2023, with Barcelona taking the top spot, followed by Toronto. The first Asian city on the list is Beijing, excelling in categories like culture, accommodation, and transportation costs, making it an attractive destination for digital nomads. The only other Asian city in the Top 10 is Jakarta, Indonesia, known for its multicultural influences and affordable hotel options. 

But will it stay? Will employers continue to offer such benefits, as the world continues to go back to pre-pandemic levels? According to MacAndrew, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. “This trend is set to accelerate further, and we will continue to see more and more companies embracing WFA policies to improve employees’ work-life balance and increase their attractiveness as an employer,” he shared.  

According to a separate study conducted by Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, slightly over half of millennial consumers and around two-thirds of Gen Z individuals would be more attracted to working for a company that offers frequent travel and flexible workcation opportunities as part of their employment package. Considering that Gen Z is projected to comprise 27% of the workforce by 2025, this further supports the notion that the trend of “working from anywhere” is expected to gain momentum. 

“For today’s hybrid workers, the world truly is their oyster,” as MacAndrew aptly put it. 

 

 

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Faye Bradley

Contributor

Faye Bradley
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