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Will "Schoolcations" Save Hotels?

Sep 06, 2020 by Maurie Backman

The COVID-19 crisis has done a number on the U.S. economy, but some industries have been harder hit than others. These include retail, entertainment, and hospitality. The latter no doubt has real estate investors worried. As of August 2020, 65% of hotels remained at or below 50% occupancy. That's below the threshold at which most hotels can break even, given their operating costs.

Consumer travel has also ground to a screeching halt. Just 33% of Americans say they've traveled overnight for vacation purposes since March, and only 38% claim they're likely to do so before the end of 2020, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. In a typical year, 70% of Americans take a vacation, but this year looks very different for obvious reasons.

And it's not just leisure travel that's been impacted by the pandemic; business travel is down as well. More companies are looking to not only cut corners, but avoid scenarios where they can be held accountable for exposing employees to a virus nobody wants to catch.

Hotels are in such bad shape, in fact, that 40% of their employees remain jobless nearly six months into the pandemic, and only 37% of hotels have been able to bring back at least half of their full-time staff. As such, it's clear that hotels need a lifeline to avoid financial ruin, and offering "schoolcations" just might be the thing that saves them.

It's time for hotels to get creative

At a time when the travel industry is sluggish at best, a little creative marketing could go a long way for hotels. Enter the schoolcation.

Many school districts throughout the country are keeping their doors closed as the 2020-21 academic year kicks off, leaving students to stick to a remote-only learning schedule. That's not a great arrangement for a lot of families -- namely, those with two working parents in need of child care. But for families with more flexibility, it opens the door to a great opportunity: the option to travel during the school year.

Normally, parents who want to go on vacation are forced to either pull their children out of school and face the consequences, or otherwise deal with the cost and crowds that come with traveling during peak vacation periods, like summer and winter break. But with so many students learning remotely, parents now have a chance to pack their bags and head out anytime. All they need to do is ensure their children can continue learning remotely from whatever destination they choose. And in this regard, hotels can help.

Specifically, hotels can entice families to travel during the school year by offering free, reliable internet service, extra desks in rooms for students to use, or even dedicated "learning rooms" on site where groups of students can congregate and do their virtual learning together. Hiring staff to supervise remote learners so parents can actually get a break or do their own work would make this type of offering even more appealing.

A number of hotels are already offering schoolcations, and those that are desperate for revenue should consider adopting a similar strategy. While not every family will have the means to pick up and travel during the school year, those who are itching to escape their hometowns after months of being cooped up might jump at the chance to do so if the price is right and the setup works.

As such, we may find that in the coming months, schoolcations pump much-needed revenue into hotels -- and save a number of them from bankruptcy.

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