With the summer months approaching, people across the country are making their vacation plans. Many people, like Alea Milham’s family of five, will opt to vacation closer to home in an effort to save money and reduce the stress of traveling.
In July, the Milham family will take a week-long staycation, where they will tour a mine in Virginia City, Nevada, and go fishing and hiking at Donner Lake in California. Both locations are less than an hour from their home in Reno. “We have a lot of fun things right in our area,” said Milham, freelance writer of the frugal living blog Premeditated Leftovers. “Staycations play a significant role in our vacations.”
For American households who feel stretched thin financially after a winter of high gas prices and payroll tax increases, staycations are likely to be an attractive alternative to the longer, pricier trip. But consumers aren’t the only ones who benefit from staycations. Tourism centers and hotels, recognizing the potential draw, are offering discounts and packages that make trips easy for families and young people. And local municipalities are expected to generate increased tax revenue as people stay at hotels, eat out in restaurants and shop at local businesses.
“A lot of families are looking at their budget and trying to cleverly decide how to do a family trip,” said Charlene Christensen, director of services at the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s becoming more common for people to look in their own backyard.”
Comparative data for staycations across regions is hard to measure because tourism bureaus track visitors differently. The use of the term gained prominence during the economic downturn, and the word was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2009. This recent emergence of the word makes it difficult to track staycation-like trips in prior decades.
The global travel marketing firm MMGY Global began capturing data on staycations in 2010, defining a staycation as a vacation taken at or closer to home (within a 50-mile drive) due to financial constraints. Their 2013 “Portrait of American Travelers” survey found that income and age mattered. People in the lowest income bracket took staycations 6% more than people in the highest income bracket. The study also revealed that the younger a person is, the more likely the individual took a staycation. Thirty two percent of millennials took a staycation over a 12-month period versus 12% of people age 67 and over. (See infographic below for additional data.)
People skeptical of staycations may question whether they are a real trend or a marketing gimmick. Economics professor William C. Gartner, at University of Minnesota, said it’s likely a little bit of both. Some locales are trying to market staycations, he said, as a “new trend” to increase awareness of local attractions – “to try and get people to visit them more.” Regardless of what draws the consumer, increased spending is good for the economy. “Staycations are good for the local economy especially if they substitute for long haul travel out of the country,” Gartner said.
Part of the attraction of staycations, in addition to affordability, is the ease of package vacations. Tourism bureaus are attracting guests from cities and towns in their own state, as well as surrounding states, by offering promotions to local tourist sites like museums and zoos. And hotels are offering staycation discounts and partnering with local businesses.
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— Hilton Garden Inn (@HGI_Midtown) May 9, 2013
Spring is a great time for a staycation. Did you know many hotels offer special resident rates/discounts for locals?
— Fairmont Hotels (@FairmontHotels) March 18, 2013
Christensen said that by forming partnerships with local businesses, the Utah Valley visitors’ bureau can generate more interest for the area. For example, last winter they offered a “Ski & Stay” package at Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort, with 20% off hotel and 10% off lift tickets.
The Priory Hotel, a 42-room hotel in a former monastery in Pittsburgh, has been offering staycation packages since 2008. “There’s a strength in selling more than just your product,” John Graf, co-owner and director of operations said. “It takes the fun out of the vacation if you have to think too much about it. If you want to go away, we’ll make it easy for you.”
The Priory’s staycation packages, which include tickets to local attractions like the conservatory and science center, differentiate the boutique property from the major hotel chains in the area. Graf said the packages are quite successful in drawing people from Cleveland, Erie, Pennsylvania and the Washington D.C area.
“There’s a profound economic impact,” Graf said. “It’s a net influx of cash. People coming to stay at our place will shop, go to restaurants, buy souvenirs.”
And all this spending bolsters local economies as they attract tourism and generate revenue through sales and hospitality tax. Similarly to Utah Valley, tourism in areas such as Minneapolis and Central Ohio are regional drive markets, attracting visitors from 50 – 400 miles away.
For a city like Minneapolis, where a majority of visitors are driving from areas such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Fargo, tourism is important to the local economy. Eighty percent of visitors arrive for leisure, spending $4.4 million dollars in 2011, according to the city’s convention and visitors association Meet Minneapolis. Overnight visitors stay on average for three nights, indicating it’s not a destination city for big vacations, but for short-term getaways.
This is also true for Central Ohio, another drive market, where visitor spending is critical to the local economy. Tax revenue supports the arts and social services, and it reduces the tax bill for locals by $2,000 annually per person, said Beth Ervin, director of communications at Experience Columbus.
“It’s a huge infusion into our restaurants, retail, hotels and gas stations,” she said. “We couldn’t support them on our own.”
But the benefits are not just financial. Karen Dawkins, who advocates for more family time through her blog Family Travels on a Budget, said the real value of a staycation is the opportunity to spend time together, connect as a family and reclaim the family weekend. These days, it seems like people have forgotten how to enjoy each other, Dawkins, 47, said.
“We live for the big vacation – the Facebook photos that say ‘Look at what I did.’ We forgot about ‘Look at who I am with.’”