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How to turn a business trip into a vacation

Some business travelers are adding a few personal days to their trips. Here are tips on what to do in lesser-known countries.
Business travelers interested in Tunisia's history should spend a few days visiting several area museums, including the National Bardo and Carthage National museums.
Business travelers interested in Tunisia's history should spend a few days visiting several area museums, including the National Bardo and Carthage National museums.Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images
/ Source: Forbes

Each year, Dr. Slim Feriani and his five colleagues visit 20 countries looking for the next hot economy. As specialists for Progressive Developing Markets Limited, a London-based boutique investment group, they travel to places like Brazil, Vietnam and Russia in search of emerging markets.

Though it sounds glamorous, the grueling meeting schedule and fast pace often leave the two-person teams exhausted. That's why once business is finished, Dr. Feriani encourages the staff to take a few days to leisurely explore the area. During this time, they take in a museum, visit shopping centers or see nearby ruins. It may feel like a vacation, but such experiences better inform their understanding of a potential market.

“It's quite enriching to the individual and to the team,” says Dr. Feriani, Progressive's managing director and chief investment officer. They gather first-hand information about local purchasing power while shopping; at the hotel, they take mental notes on other patrons; and, while enjoying the night life, they'll chat up taxi drivers to gain an insider's perspective.

The experts at Progressive aren't the only business travelers tacking a few vacation days onto a trip. About half of the 2,000 road warriors surveyed by Deloitte last year said they had extended a business trip for vacation.

With investment opportunities growing in emerging and frontier markets, business travelers are also frequently landing in lesser-known countries and trying to take advantage of a unique travel experience. That can be easy to do — even in countries like Croatia, Malaysia and Namibia — with just a little preparation.

Limited choices in new markets
Though China, India and Russia dominate where new business and market development are concerned, there are dozens of smaller countries around the world where companies are investing in burgeoning industries.

Alec Young, an international equity strategist with Standard & Poor's, says that the hunt for raw materials and steady consumer growth has sparked increased investment in smaller but riskier countries. At the beginning of this year, both S&P and MSCI Barra began tracking growth in frontier markets, which are considered less predictable than emerging markets.

“There is generally less choice, higher prices and weaker infrastructure,” in these markets, Young says. “It doesn't mean it's not an interesting trip culturally or business-wise, but in terms of creature comforts, that's not to be expected.”

Services for travelers in emerging markets will improve as countries receive a balanced mix of business travelers and tourists, says Kevin Iwamoto, a former president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association.

When Dr. Feriani's team was recently in the S&P emerging market of Vietnam, for example, there were only a few hotels in Hanoi for business travelers. Still, the team's local contacts saved them time and energy by offering suggestions for restaurants, accommodations and shopping.

“We are spoiled because we have people looking after us,” jokes Dr. Feriani. Yet, for the business traveler intent on staying a few extra days, local contacts are invaluable.

Be prepared
Research is also important. At first blush, some destinations might seem lacking in cultural or recreational offerings. For instance, Croatia, which is an S&P frontier market, boasts extensive national parks, beautiful reefs and islands and the Istrian thermal springs, where several resort-style spas have popped up in recent years.

Jordan lacks accommodations for neither the business traveler nor the tourist. In the capital city of Amman, there are more than two dozen four- and five-star hotels.Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Jordan lacks neither accommodations for the business traveler or the tourist. In the capital city of Amman, there are more than two dozen four- and five-star hotels. There's plenty to experience in Jordan outside of business, though, including the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea, and the mountainous region of Wadi Rum, where tourists can hire a local Bedouin guide to help them explore the area.

Malaysia, an S&P emerging market, is home to the vibrant capital of Kuala Lumpur, where global street-food has become a culinary highlight for many tourists. There are also opportunities for adventure travel in the Mulu caves or the jungles of Endau Rompin, both located in national parks.

International SOS, a company that provides medical and security assistance to employees abroad, noticed a 44 percent increase between 2004 and 2007 in the number of business travelers who extended their program coverage for personal travel. Richard Culver, senior director of security services, says companies often provide their employees the coverage as a benefit, but when they don't, individuals can purchase services at a 20 percent discount, starting at $80 a day.

For the business traveler-turned-tourist, an emergency assistance plan is a crucial part of preparedness. Culver says the company rescued employees stranded by the 2005 tsunami and employees stuck in Lebanon during the 2006 war.

“Everyone we helped during the tsunami was on vacation,” he says. “Let's face it.”