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So imagine (it likely won’t be hard) that for some reason (say, a global pandemic), your thrilling, carefully detailed, highly anticipated summer vacation gets cancelled. What do you do? According to one recent survey, about three-quarters of U.S. consumers simply did not take any trips in summer 2020. But at some point, most families feel desperate for a break—a chance to opt out of their daily routine, visit somewhere new, recharge their batteries, and spend quality time together. If they are not willing to get on a plane or train to do so, a staycation might be a viable alternative, suggesting a substantial market opportunity for various tourism service providers.

A staycation refers to short-distance travels, usually to a location easily accessible by car. Whether single-day or longer in duration, staycations encourage consumers to visit and experience local attractions rather that travel vast distances to reach less familiar attractions. As the summer of the coronavirus drew to a close, many people noted their increasing likelihood of embracing this option. They might have skipped their summer vacation, but as fall arrived, they grew more ready to take short trips.

Not only do short, accessible trips appeal to people who are hesitant to get on planes, but the COVID-19–related impacts on children’s schooling meant that it was increasingly possible for families to travel, even during the traditional school year. Distance learning can take place anywhere with an Internet connection, so students can attend school just as easily at a hotel as at home. The Four Seasons Hotel in Orlando established a dedicated service for just this purpose, which it calls a “schoolcation.” It offers supervision of young guests in a dedicated learning room, equipped with socially distanced desks and high-speed Wi-Fi. While the students engage with their teachers through video calls, supervised by hotel employees, parents can visit the hotel’s golf course or spa. Then after school hours end, the family can convene at the pool, take tennis lessons from the hotel’s pro, or visit nearby amusement parks.

Those amusement parks are recognizing the opportunity too. Florida’s theme parks have long offered discounts to residents of the state, but those price cuts have grown even more substantial in the current era, and the options are less subject to restrictions. For example, a four-day Flex ticket to Disney now allows in-state guests to visit multiple parks on nonconsecutive days, whereas previously they were restricted to certain parks and usually had to use the pass within a limited period. The cost is just $49 per day (cf. $109 for a regular one-day pass).

Such appeals also reflect another outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is, staycations historically have tended to grow more popular during economic downturns, when people seek to save money on their travels. The economic challenges created by COVID-19 imply that the close-to-home vacation may be a lasting trend, so service providers need to find ways to make their offerings affordable.

These locational insights—along with survey studies indicating that people are seeking more outdoors adventures, in beach or mountain locations, rather than urban centers, during the COVID-19 era—offer compelling motivations for other service providers. They seemingly should adjust their targeting efforts, to focus their marketing on geographically proximal segments. Rather than international appeal, travel destinations should work to become great neighbors for local consumers, who are clearly ready for a break from school, work, and the virus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is targeting locals is a good and sustainable strategy for tourism service providers, such as hotels and theme parks?
  2. How might local targeting, similar to staycations, represent a viable opportunity for other industries?

Source: Tom Ryan, “How Big Is the Staycationer Opportunity?” Retail Wire, September 11, 2020; Samantha Davis-Friedman, “Four Seasons Orlando Invites Families to ‘Schoolcation’ at Disney World,” Attractions Magazine, September 3, 2020; Stacey Leasca, “Disney World and Universal Are Both Offering Huge Ticket Discounts for Florida Residents,” Travel + Leisure, August 17, 2020