Virtual hotels and staycations

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a report on how the a flagging economy has caused some startling changes in consumer travel plans. Instead of actually going places, people have taken to simulating travel. The Journal reports on how a potential traveler, Karen Ash, “is about to take a week-long Japanese vacation. She’ll buy postcards and souvenirs at a traditional Japanese market. She’ll admire bonsai plants and view Japanese films. She’ll eat ramen, ordering in Japanese. And she’ll never leave the Bronx (NY).

The Journal article is along the lines of an entry posted on this site last month about staycations, a recently coined word that has ominous tones for the hospitality and ancillary industries. What drove Ms. Ash to the faux Japanese vacation was soaring airfares and a plunging dollar.

The phenomenon of simulating travel has, quite naturally spawned its own set of entrepreneurs. The WSJ article notes “Bob Porter, a literary editor from Pacific City, Ore., for one, has taken on the additional career of staycation planner. Last spring, a friend of Mr. Porter complained that he was too broke to travel, so Mr. Porter, as a joke, furnished his apartment like a hotel. He plugged in a TV, hung “Do Not Disturb” signs and even placed fresh soaps and towels in the bathroom. Since the joke, word-of-mouth has spread. Mr. Porter has repeated the hotel stunt 11 times since April, sparking a small business. For two nights of the faux-hotel experience, he charges $50 to $60. (He buys the items from real hotels.)”. At least the line in parenthesis offers some hope for hoteliers.

While it is unclear at what point the whole exercise becomes farcical as in the case of Ms.Ash who while walking the streets of Manhattan saw Japanese postcards that she refused to buy as she was technically not yet on her staycation, what is certain is that American travelers are getting about as easy to spot as the LochNess monster in some traditional European travel spots such as Ireland.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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