- As students across the country learn virtually, hotels and resorts hope to lure families that now have the flexibility to travel during the school year.
- The idea has been coined "schoolcations," and some hotels are offering online tutoring, social-distanced study rooms, school supplies, and children programmings, like yoga classes and ski courses.
- Insider spoke to hospitality experts, hoteliers, and families about how virtual school can fit into a vacation.
- While nonessential travel is no longer discouraged, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that "travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19."
- Sign up for our new parenting newsletter Insider Parenting here.
Earlier this month, Landon Alvarez swapped his schoolyard for the seven pools at Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek in Orlando, Florida.
But before the 10-year-old could explore the resort's water slides, pools, and lazy river, schoolwork needed to be finished, his mom, Amber Alvarez, told Insider.
The Alvarez family took advantage of the resort's new Back to School, Back to Your Bucket List program, targeted at families with children in virtual school.
Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek is just one of the many hotels and resorts appealing to families with children who have online classes. Coined "schoolcations," the hospitality industry has quickly marketed the flexibility of virtual learning.
How rest and relaxation pair with the stressors of online school
Amber, her fiancé, and two children, 10 and 2, stayed in a suite for a long weekend. When they arrived, Landon was greeted with a backpack full of school supplies as part of the package. For Amber, the "schoolcation" package included noise-canceling headphones and a bottle of wine to kick off the trip.
Outside, "cabana classrooms" were set up so learning could take place poolside. Landon completed his schoolwork from the suite's patio, and in the afternoon, the family grabbed their laptops and went to the pool to finish classwork and business work for the weekend.
Amber told Insider that she was worried Landon might get sidetracked by the vacation atmosphere at the resort, but that the backpack of school supplies "set the tone that we're here to get work done as well."
As virtual learning continues, the hospitality industry saw an opportunity: 'schoolcations'
The hospitality industry has been decimated by the novel coronavirus. The American Hotels and Lodging Association found that nearly 75% of hotels anticipate more layoffs by the end of the year, and the association has claimed that the hotel industry is "on the brink of collapse."
But while families debate whether or not they should travel and where they should visit, it's clear that domestic travel is on the rise. National parks have been swamped with tourists, RV rentals have skyrocketed, and many vacations are taking place closer to home.
The Alvarez family was eager to travel.
"As soon as we were able to, we were traveling," she said. "Of course, there was a lot of handwashing and wearing the face masks and social distancing, but we didn't let that stop us from making memories."
Hotels and resorts are trying to entice families like Alvarez's, who are willing to travel and take advantage of virtual learning's flexibility, Jason Herthel, the COO of Montage International, a hotel management company, told Insider.
Montage International launched Montage Academy in early September. The program offers children a study space, virtual tutoring, movement breaks, snacks, and lunches.
The students attend their normal virtual classes, and, after work is complete, they can opt-in for electives like fly-fishing or a farm-to-table cooking class. A day at Montage Academy will cost families $175 and a school week costs $725.
Herthel said that the idea came from conversations with guests.
Families expressed nervousness and concern about going back to virtual learning: "'I am thinking about trying to help my kids with math questions but I haven't taken algebra in decades,' or 'I'm stressed about whether our WiFi is going to work at home with so many people using it at the same time,'" Herthel shared. "The idea sort of bubbled up from there."
In less than a month, the company had launched the academy.
The packages include everything from around-the-clock tutors to ski lessons
When Nancy and Jim Liddell were searching for a way to celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary, they had a few requirements.
They wanted it to be a family affair that would include their three daughters, and they needed the trip to be short because weekends were packed with athletics, and some weekdays had in-person classes.
So they settled on a night at Kimpton Muse Hotel in New York City.
The family traveled from their home in Darien, Connecticut, and arrived at the Kimpton Hotel on a Thursday evening. The next morning, the three daughters had virtual school from 8 a.m. until noon. Afterward, the family was free to explore the city.
The family had access to Kimpton Hotels' new "Chief Virtual Learning Officer," who was there to help the children access WiFi and troubleshoot any issues with online classes while Jim worked from a separate room for free. The kids received snack packs and school supplies for free, and at additional cost, the hotel provided school lunches.
Jim said that a trip like this wouldn't have felt possible without virtual learning or the hotel's accommodations. "We may have considered it, but what we would have just done was play hooky with our kids."
While some elements are included in a stay, others come at a high price tag
Beyond onsite tech support, resorts have also added luxury amenities to attract families.
At Auberge Resorts Collection, families have access to online and onsite tutors, babysitters, and nannies. After their virtual school bell rings, the kids participate in programming.
"In Mauna Lani, our property on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can learn how to play the ukulele or you can learn how to hula dance," Mike Minchin, the chief marking officer of Auberge Resorts Collection, told Insider.
Another example: A family recently booked a stay at Hotel Jerome, Auberge Resorts Collection, in Aspen, Colorado, so their children could become expert skiers, Minchin said. A night at Hotel Jerone, Auberge Resort Collections, starts at $600 with its new program.
Minchin said extended stays were popular over the summer, and his team predicted the same would be true as the school year started virtually. In a matter of weeks, 17 Auberge Resort Collections added the Remote with Auberge program.
At some Auberge properties, access to an office cabana will cost $700 a day. The resorts also partnered with Advantage Testing so families can access tutoring, which ranges from $150 to $875 for 50 minutes of tutoring.
Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek's program starts at $179 for a night in the suite, but perks like the cabana classroom have additional costs.
Several resorts launched these programs in a matter of weeks
For every family that checks into Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, Greg Goffin, the director of sales and marketing, is there to greet them with a welcome sign, personalized WiFi password, and school supplies. He shares his phone number so that family can call or text whenever they need his help.
In Goffin's newly added role as a "Chief Virtual Learning Officer," he's there to help children with their virtual school needs.
"It's something that can be special and excite the children while giving mom and dad a break on some level," he told Insider.
Access to Goffin is free for families checking in, and so far he's helped a handful of families. Other than that, Goffin's role at Kimpton hasn't significantly changed.
For many of the hotels and resorts, there wasn't much infrastructure added to create the programming. Instead, resorts like Auberge Resorts Collection "elevated and amplified things," Minchin said.
For example, more babysitting services were added, the children's programs were enhanced, and partnerships with tutoring companies were created.
Montage Hotels similarly had many amenities in place before launching Montage Academy. Elements like the "electives" were already happening onsite. The online tutoring component is new, and Herthel shared that the biggest lift was repurposing conference rooms to serve as socially distanced study halls.
Minchin and Herthel both shared that they expect their hotels and resorts to keep the programming in place while large populations are still attending virtual school.
As for the families who participated, they shared that they'd book a similar "schoolcation" again.
"I don't see us doing any long-distance air travel anytime soon," Jim said. "So these short little trips and escapes are the way we're able to get away."
If you're a teacher, student, or parent who wants to share their story on what it's like to go back to school right now, get in touch at [email protected].
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