Usually, it’s older travelers who go south for the winter months. But in the age of the pandemic, younger travelers are riding out the cold weather in locations that are warmer and trendier than home.
A new type of ‘snowbird’
“Snowbirds” is the term used to describe seasonal travelers who migrate to warmer climates for the winter. They are typically older and retired, as well as more health-conscious and educated than their peers.
These same attributes, however, are keeping them at home in recent months. In their place, a new flock of travelers — unencumbered by office hours and Covid-aggravating medical conditions — are venturing out.
Florida’s Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa debuted a “One Month Life Swap” program in November aimed at those working or studying from home.
“Every year, we typically offer a ‘snowbird’ program to retirees,” said the resort’s General Manager Gary Brielmayer. “This year we saw an opportunity to expand that program.”
Brielmayer said interest in the program has come from residents of Chicago, New York City and Indianapolis but also from Atlanta and Dallas, which “proves to us that weather is only part of the equation.”
“The idea of living at a resort used to be just a dream,” he told CNBC’s Global Traveler. “But now with so much of work and schooling happening online, it’s a realistic lifestyle for many.”
The Atlantic Hotel & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also has an influx of guests staying for over a month this winter.
“I foresee this trend extending into the summer months and well past the pandemic,” said Samuel Atwood, the hotel’s general manager.
One-way flights, longer stays
Andrew Collins, the president and CEO of private jet company Sentient Jet, said the duration of customers’ trips has increased by 50% since the pandemic began. One-way flights are on the rise.
“We are flying the same number of legs as 2019, but less of that mix is round-trip travel and more is one-way travel,” he said.
Top destinations for Sentient Jet flyers include West Palm Beach and Key Largo, Florida, as well as Teterboro, New Jersey; White Plains, New York, and Aspen, Colorado.
Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending against holiday travel last year, the members-only vacation club Exclusive Resorts said it had five times the number of reservations for trips lasting two weeks or more last month than in December 2019.
The company, which gives members access to nearly 400 luxury homes in more than 75 destinations worldwide, said the demand for longer trips is accelerating.
“Reservations lasting 14 [or more] days in 2021 have more than doubled compared to 2020 — and are still coming in,” said Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson. “We now have 72 such stays for the next 12 weeks, compared to 26 such stays in 2019.”
The company said month-long home rentals are popular in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Sea Island, Georgia, as well as Hawaii, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Home-like hotels thrive
While the hotel industry struggles through the first full winter of the pandemic, luxury extended-stay hotel AKA reported that nearly 80% of its apartments are booked for the first quarter of this year.
This month, the hotel is reporting 78% of bookings are for a month or more, compared with 47% in January of 2020.
AKA President Larry Korman said extended stay options resonate with consumers who want a “home away from home” environment with kitchens, office setups, living rooms and laundry services.
The apartment-style hotel company Mint House reported occupancy rates of 91% in December 2020, and it’s 85% booked this month thus far. Its downtown Miami location has five reservations from New Yorkers who are staying from mid-December to March.
Guests at Mint House who stay 30 nights or more receive more than 50% off nightly rates, a markdown that will likely change once business travel rebounds, the company told CNBC.
Wanted: Sun and safety
Some travelers are seeking sun, as well as shelter, from spiking Covid-19 infection rates in select islands in the Caribbean Sea.
One such place is Anguilla, which has recorded 15 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Travelers to the British Overseas Territory must be pre-approved to enter, pass three Covid-19 tests and quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
Diego Angarita, the general manager of Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla, said the average length of stay at the hotel has more than doubled for bookings in 2021.
Some guests “are choosing to stay for a month or the entire winter season,” he told Global Traveler. “Many of our guests came for the festive holidays… and actually decided to extend through January and February.”
Guests of the hotel who stay 30 days or longer receive free parking, personal training sessions and other perks. Luxury seekers can upgrade to a 6,050-square-foot penthouse and private air transport from Puerto Rico through the hotel’s new “Ultimate Caribbean Escape” package.
New Yorker Stephen Paluszek, who owns a residence at the hotel, said he and his family spent the past two weeks on the island, though he said they don’t usually visit during the holiday period.
“This year, knowing that there would be fewer visitors, we were excited to be able to return and enjoy this great island,” he said. “We found the requirements to visit very reasonable, and while staying here have totally enjoyed our return.”
Winter spots are hot too
Domestic guests at Yu Kiroro, a luxury ski-in/ski-out condominium hotel at the base of Hokkaido’s Kiroro resort in Japan, are staying longer than in years past.
“This reflects the global trend toward not just working from home, but working from where you truly want to be,” said Alix Fachin, the hotel’s residence manager.
Fachin said guests who stay seven nights or more pay a minimum of 55% less than the average daily peak period rate.
For stays longer than two weeks, he said, “we can tailor-make even better nightly rate packages than these.”
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