According to Helen Hill, CEO of Visit Charleston, the popular port city and its nearby islands and beaches are expecting a $523 million revenue loss during the period of March 22-April 18. Wayne Smith, professor and chair of the College of Charleston’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, summed the situation up succinctly for Greenville News: “Not even hurricanes do this.”
This is a would-be high season for South Carolina, so the travel shutdown is hitting particularly hard. But hotels in every part of the country are hurting right now. High-cost, independent boutiques, a last-decade beacon of the industry’s growing strength and diversity, are especially at risk, and have needed to think creatively to keep their names out there and cash coming in, while locking down future stays.
Gift cards have been the answer for many. A website called Hotel Credits currently represents 21 different properties, from Montauk to Bangkok, and sells discounted hotel gift certificates, most commonly $300 on a $200 purchase — for most of these hotels, that equates to 25-33% off a one-night stay — though some offer small credit values, like a $50 purchase for a $65 value, which can be applied to massages, surf lessons, or happy hour.
A quick gander at Hotel Credits’s listings shows why the concept could work: if your finances are stable at the moment (a huge “if,” to be fair), dreaming about rooftop pools, vineyard lofts and beach clubs once this is all over is healthy, both for you and the economy. To continue the hurricane analogy — the recovery of storm-ravaged communities often depends on people coming in and spending money. Making a purchase now could even ensure that some of these hotels survive.
But what about the risk? What if these hotels can’t make it? And how long do these gift cards last? To the last query, they’ll last as long as they need to. If an expiration date isn’t explicitly stipulated, a gift certificate, by federal law, is in commission for five years. As for the long-term health of Hotel Credit-listed hotels, it is a gamble; even if the hotels stay open, there’s a chance rates are increased by the time they swing their doors open again, which could dilute the value of the gift card you purchased months before.
One approach, for those worried if a hotel is going to make it, is to “invest” in relief funds by purchasing “hotel bonds.” Buy Now, Stay Later is also representing over 20 hotels from Chicago to Cape Town, and is selling bonds in increments of $100 through the end of August. After a 60-day maturation, every $100 is assigned a value of $150. The idea, of course, is to help these places keep the lights on, until you can visit and enjoy it all again.
If you don’t recognize a hotel through Hotel Credits or Buy Now, Stay Later that you’ve stayed at/want to stay at, or perhaps even have a hotel in mind that you need to pull through this, try sending them an email. See if you can purchase a room for the end of summer, or early autumn, at a discounted rate. There’s a solid chance your favorite local already has a little-publicized system in place, or would be flexible in arranging a bespoke gift certificate.