Shuttered hotels look to cash in on future stays

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The Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa is offering a $50 bonus on e-gift card purchases of $200 or more.

With the travel industry at a standstill, some hotels are hoping gift card discounts can lure future guests and drive much-needed revenue.

Napa Valley’s Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa, for example, is currently housing essential personnel, but the property is looking beyond the Covid-19 crisis with an offer of a $50 bonus for those who purchase an e-gift card of $200 or more. The Inn at Avila Beach, a California all-inclusive that’s shuttered until early May, is offering 20% off all gift cards. Maine’s Higgins Beach Inn, which plans to open by May 29, has launched a similar offer, tacking on an extra $20 for every $100 gift card purchase.

But while numerous independent and boutique hotels are banking on gift card sales to help tide them over, their promotions might be reaching a relatively limited audience.

Porter & Sail, a hospitality technology company, is hoping to solve that problem.

Launched in 2015, Porter & Sail’s core products include a guest-facing mobile concierge app, granting hotel operators the ability to offer amenities such as digital check-in and messaging capabilities, and a prearrival e-commerce platform, which provide guests the chance to purchase an upgraded room category or ancillaries such as a local tour prior to check-in. The company serves more than 300 independent hotels across 70 markets worldwide.

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, the company was also laying groundwork for a personalized booking platform, billed as “a dating site, but for hotel booking.” But plans for that rollout came to an abrupt halt as the pandemic escalated. As many of Porter & Sail’s hotel partners began to shutter, the company also put its core businesses on the back burner.

“Our entire 2020 road map changed,” said Porter & Sail CEO Caitlin Zaino von During. “Everything we were working on  --  booking, personalization, prearrival e-commerce, experience-driven travel  --  very quickly felt tone deaf the moment that this crisis hit.”

In late March, Porter & Sail switched its focus, leveraging its digital presence and client network to offer a collection of “hotel credits” or vouchers for a dollar amount greater than their purchase price. For example, a $300 voucher for the Sixty SoHo hotel in Manhattan can be purchased for $200 on Porter & Sail’s website.

As of mid-April, Porter & Sail had listed more than 20 hotel credit offers on its platform. According to Zaino von During, the company isn’t taking a fee on any sales.

“We came up with the idea of hotel credits because we wanted to drive near-term capital to our clients when they need it most,” she said. “We felt that this is a really cool proposition, a way of fulfilling that consumer desire to travel, but in a safe and future-oriented way, while still providing a path for hotels to access revenue.”

Though terms and conditions vary by property, many credits can be spent not only on stays but also on spa treatments or food and beverage. Most importantly, expiration dates are generous, with most extending through to the end of next year or 2022. One property, the Trademark Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, is allowing redemption through 2024.

Zaino von During reported that sales are brisk, with the average shopper spending nearly $700 on the site. In addition to Porter & Sail promoting the hotel credits to its own user base, hotels participating in the initiative are sharing the platform across their own channels.

Porter & Sail, however, isn’t the only player recognizing that there’s strength in numbers.

In mid-April, a cadre of independent hotels joined forces to launch Buy Now, Stay Later, an industrywide initiative promoting the purchase of “hotel bonds.” The bonds can be purchased direct from any participating property and are being sold in increments of $100; after 60 days, that $100 bond matures to a value of $150. Expiration dates are at the discretion of each property. 

As of April 20, the Buy Now, Stay Later landing page featured more than 30 hotels, including properties such as the Eastwind Hotel & Bar in Windham, N.Y., and Greydon House in Nantucket, Mass.

That list is likely to grow, as the Buy Now, Stay Later site invites hotels interested in joining to submit a request. Likewise, Zaino von During said numerous hotel credit deals are currently queued up to join Porter & Sail’s existing roster.

“There’s a network effect that’s happening, and when you see disparate campaigns, it’s harder to create from that,” Zaino von During said. “What we’re hearing from our clients is that they really want to engage, build a collective awareness and help support each other.”

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