Remote workers extend their vacation — to the delight of resort owners

In ‘normal’ times, hotels in summer hotspots go into hibernation once Labor Day rolls around — but retreats are seeing strong fall seasons this year, as the need for online learning and working from home fuels a demand for longer stays.

Dana Bates and her husband, both biotech workers, and their 7-year-old daughter, were already working and remote learning from their Cloverdale, California, home. Then, smoke conditions from the California wildfires sent them in search of another venue.

They landed in a two-bedroom cabin at the Brasada Ranch resort near Bend, Oregon, where the self-contained units and attention to health and safety were reassuring during an especially stressful time.

“It was one level, with rooms on separate sides of the cabin and a desk in each room. Cleaning staff did not come every day, but you could leave bedding and towels out for pick-up and request fresh linens,” Bates said. “It was comfortable. We made friends. And I felt very safe from COVID-19,” she said.

Remote workers everywhere, with or without children, are facing stress right now and the uncertainty is really trying, said Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “Even for families not facing true economic hardship, there’s the challenge of how do I keep my job, keep my kids in school and stay safe.”

To accommodate families seeking safe and supportive places to work and deal with remote schooling, more than 30 hotels in the Greater Miami region just rolled out a remote campaign with features that include everything from hair/makeup and lighting help for virtual meetings to tutors, lunches and “after school” programs for kids.

In the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, hotels are working out collaborations with educational attractions, meal delivery options, and more.

It is too soon to tell if remote work and work/school set-ups at hotels and resorts becomes a true trend, said Jan Freitag, senior vice president of lodging insights with analytics provider STR. “We’ll know that for sure in October,” once school is in full swing.

For now, fall bookings are already way up at Gurney’s Resorts, which includes properties in Montauk, New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Gurney’s Star Island Resort and Marina in Montauk said it had three times as many bookings for September 2020 as compared to 2019.

“This has offset the expected losses from our group and weddings businesses,” Gurney’s Resorts owner George Filopoulos told NBC News.

White Elephant Resorts, which operates four hotels on the island of Nantucket, said leisure fall bookings are 36 percent higher in 2020 than they were last year.

“With many children starting the year with online learning, and the ability for parents to work from ‘wherever,’ it’s allowing guests to be more flexible with their travel plans,” Khaled Hashem, White Elephant Resorts managing director, said.

For those who want to double down, some resorts are going the extra mile, offering in-person or virtual tutoring services for kids — and their parents. Auberge Resorts Collection, which has 19 properties around the world, just launched a program that includes tutoring for kids, educational seminars for adults and, in some locations, poolside “office cabanas.”

In Key West, Florida, the Casa Marina resort is offering a “school-cation” package with tours of the Shipwreck Museum, the Butterfly Conservatory and the Ernest Hemingway Home, plus an escape room experience — and a bottle of wine so parents can wind down after a long day.

“These work-cation/school-cation concepts are not for everyone,” said Gabe Saglie of Travelzoo. However, for those with flexibility and means, “a clever promotion can be enough to inspire travel that would otherwise not have been planned.”

While some properties are developing new guest experiences, lodging operators will need to get creative if local restaurants and activities are still shut down due to the coronavirus, said Robert Cole, senior analyst at travel market research firm Phocuswright.

“Guests wishing to escape being confined to their homes are unlikely to enjoy being confined to a hotel room,” Cole pointed out.

It wasn’t a clever promotion, but “seemingly endless remote work challenges” due to the pandemic and a desire to escape “to a place where everything was thoughtful, safe and inclusive,” that got

Sarah Goldman and her husband recently escaped New York City for a cottage stay at the 500-acre Cedar Lakes Estate in the Hudson Valley, which pivoted from mainly weddings and corporate events to offer private stays that include activities, meals, and socially distanced cocktails.

Going back in the off-season is appealing, Goldman said. “I can’t imagine there will be a lot open in Brooklyn — and we’ll be going stir crazy.”

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