SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - For their one-and-only family getaway this year, the Billingtons checked in to an upscale San Diego resort on Sunday with many of the usual vacation accessories — bathing suits, board games and golf clubs.
But they also brought flashlights, sleeping bags and an inflatable mattress because the pool-side room they booked for just $19 comes with a tent where the beds normally would be. They even had to pack their own toilet paper.
While many of Southern California’s luxury hotels are battling a severe slump in business by offering extra services and more amenities, the Rancho Bernardo Inn is luring guests with the exact opposite — no frills and barely any basics.
Called the “Survivor Package,” the hotel’s deeply discounted promotion lets patrons trim its standard $219-per-night rate on a sliding scale of deprivation, lowering charges with each amenity stripped from the room.
The most basic version: a room for $19 with no bed, toilet paper, towels, air-conditioning or “honor bar,” and only a single light bulb in the bathroom for safety. The next level up adds in a bed — sans sheets — for $39 a night. For a bed plus toiletries and toilet paper, the rate is $59.
Maureen Carew, assistant general manager of the four-star inn, called the promotion “clever marketing in a downtime.”
Herman Billington, 39, a personal trainer who owns his own business, says it’s the only vacation he, his wife and their two sons, aged 9 and 10, plan to take this year as they concentrate on “keeping it lean.”
“The boys get to feel like they’re camping, and I get to go to the spa,” said their mother, Erica Billington, 37.
Luxury hotels and resorts have fallen on hard times during the recession, as corporate travel planners shy away from lavish spending and consumers plan thrifty, if any, vacations.
Across the industry, occupancy rates have dropped about 10 percent Carew said. The slump has pushed room rates down, with many of California’s more luxurious properties throwing in a breakfast, a round of golf or extra night’s stay for free.
The outlook for the rest of 2009 is bleak, according to Smith Travel Research, which predicts that U.S. hotel revenue per available room will fall 17 percent and demand will drop 5.5 percent by the end of the year.
Carew said Rancho Bernardo’s promotion drew more than 420 reservations, including 240 bookings at the $19 rate and 116 at the $39 rate.
Like the Billingtons, mortgage banker Brian Sciutto, 36, is watching his pennies. His Sunday night stay at the hotel is his first getaway in two years, though he brought his iPhone and mail from home to keep busy.
“I feel like I’m on vacation but I’m not,” Sciutto said as he enjoyed the cool breeze blowing in from the golf course outside. “I feel like I’m being spoiled for 19 bucks.”
Reporting by Laura Isensee, editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler