ASIAN business travellers today have more autonomy in business travel, and often blur the lines between work and play, a report commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has found.
Nearly seven in 10 such travellers (69 per cent) are allowed to choose their preferred airline from their company's pre-approved list of carriers; another 11 per cent are able to choose any airline they please.
With hotels too, three quarters (74 per cent) are given the liberty to choose their accommodation from a pre-approved list, and 9 per cent can do so with no restrictions.
The report said that Asian business travellers are nearly twice as likely to extend a business trip to include a weekend for leisure - 12 per cent of Asians do this, against just 7 per cent of Europeans.
This indicates a shift in attitude towards viewing business travel "as a travel experience, not just work - and an enjoyable one at that", said the report.
The findings are the result of online consumer surveys among 2,500 business travellers from China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore. The study included interviews with travel managers, booking-pattern analyses from data by travel-technology firm Amadeus and spending-pattern analyses by Visa.
Another interesting finding was that 41 per cent of respondents are willing to fly low-cost carriers for business, although the percentages differ from country to country: 63 per cent of Indonesians said they are willing to fly low-cost carriers, but only a quarter of Singaporeans are.
The report comes at a time when Asian business travellers make up 38 per cent of global business travel spend. This is expected to grow four times faster than North America's, to gain a further five per cent of the global pie, said Andrew Phua, director of Exhibitions and Conferences at STB.
Cheryl Lim, associate principal at McKinsey & Company, which was commissioned to conduct the survey, said: "Research out there today is very much North America- and European-focused. Given how traveller preferences themselves are big disrupters, we decided we really needed to understand at a relatively granular level what's happening in Asia."
The data in the report has thrown up certain business travel patterns.
One is that the number of business travellers entering Singapore has plateaued, but business traveller spend has fallen about 10 per cent.
Ooi Huey Tyng, country manager for Singapore and Brunei at Visa Worldwide Pte Limited, said: "We found that in certain categories, especially hotels, the decrease has been very significant, which further indicates that perhaps business travellers choose to stay here for shorter periods of time, or are choosing less expensive hotels when they travel."
Since most Asian business travellers now have greater autonomy to choose their own hotels, marketing efforts should be focused on the travellers themselves, rather than be reliant on traditional corporate contracting functions.
And as the distinction between business and leisure trips become fuzzier, travel companies may want to think of new ways to reach out to business travellers, said STB's Mr Phua.
He said: "The touchpoints we use to reach out to business travellers may be the same as those we use to reach out to leisure travellers, especially after hours. Once their conference - or whichever event they are in the country for - ends, their behaviour norms are like those of leisure travellers. So the question is then 'What are the touchpoints you can use and leverage to reach out to them?'
"We feel that digital is one, because they're digitally savvy. They want to know where to dine, where to party, where to shop. So essentially, when we use our digital strategy for leisure travellers, we can juxtapose it to our business travellers after hours."
This week, STB announced its partnerships with four Chinese online media platforms to promote Singapore destinations among Chinese users.
In the report, digital booking channels were shown to be 28 per cent more popular than traditional channels such as booking through a secretary.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that digital booking channels were shown to be 29 per cent more popular than traditional channels. It is in fact 28 per cent. The article above has been revised to reflect this.