Faced with the prospect of empty pools and still reeling over our saggy economy, luxury hotels have found another way to make money while avoiding cuts to their rates: by opening their pools and exercise facilities to locals who don't have quite enough money to get their way into elite country clubs but do have an extra $1,000 per month to burn.
The trend is a spin on the idea of a staycation, The Wall Street Journal's Andrea Petersen explains, as guests can fork over a lot of money to use the hotel's facilities without actually staying there. Petersen cites one Anne Leahy Jones of Menlo Park, and her "membership" at the Rosewood Sandal Hill Resort:
Ms. Jones is one of Rosewood's 75 "lifestyle members," a $1,000-a-month club for locals ($1,500 for couples) that gives them access to the hotel's gym, spa and pool, discounts on meals and drinks and other perks.
The average home in Menlo Park starts at about $1.49 million, according to Trulia, so you can understand how Jones, a 62-year-old retiree, has some money to spend (sort of?). The Rosewood Sandal Hill Resort charges about $450 a night (based on dates starting August 9), so Jones might be (?) snagging herself a pretty nice deal if she's taking full advantage of all the hotel's amenities. But it seems like Jones may be paying what's more than some people spend on rent, just because she likes being waited on: "I do have a swimming pool in my backyard, but no one comes through and offers me water and cleans my lounge chair," Jones told Peterson.
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Jones may not have Mitt Romney's kind of money—the kind that can get you a cabana boy in your backyard. But she does have more money than a lot of Americans, and she's exactly whom luxury hotels are after with their "membership" offers. "We build these beautiful pools and there will be two people in them," Peter C. Borer, the chief operating officer of Peninsula Hotels, told The Journal, which notes that Peninsula hotels have memberships at six of their branches. But instead of say, knocking down the price of a room at the Peninsula in Manhattan, which starts at $545 per night ( that is, August 9), they target people like Jones instead.
The impetus behind these hotel memberships is obvious—hotels need money. The poor economy of the past several years hit the travel industry hard, keeping people home. That, after all, is how the "staycation" was born. And though, according to the Census's 2012 abstract, the amount spent on traveler accommodations is growing, it's not growing as rapidly as it was in the early 2000s. Petersen, gleaning information from an expert, explains, "hotel occupancy rates and room prices have rebounded since the economic downturn, other revenues, particularly from meetings, restaurants and other services, such as spa, golf and retail, are still depressed." Which is why locals like Jones are very important—they can bolster the services that guests either can't afford or choose to neglect without diminishing the hotel's reputation.
Not that there aren't problems with this model. Peterson describes how the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok withdrew its gym memberships to locals after guests complained. And apparently last summer, the Four Seasons in Baltimore became a (sort of) public pool:
Last summer, the new Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore allowed locals to use its elegant waterfront infinity pool for $75 a day ($50 for children). It was very busy and staff were overwhelmed, says general manager Julien Carralero. People "would bring five kids. They'd bring their kids and the neighbor's kids," he says. This summer, the hotel no longer offers day passes. Instead, memberships for area residents, which give access to the fitness center, spa and pool, and certain discounts, now cost $3,500 a year, plus a $1,000 enrollment fee.
Paying thousands of dollars to swim in a pool at a hotel where you aren't staying? Um, we'll skip that, thanks.