Shuttered hotels look to cash in on future stays

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

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

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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