Comment: Why group travel is going boutique

Colin Nagy, a brand strategist based in New York and Los Angeles, on how group-based accommodation has reshaped vacationing post-pandemic.

A large chunk of leisure travel used to mainly revolve around the family, solo or couple’s getaway to escape the grind of daily life in favor of a few days on the beach, in the mountains or somewhere else that felt far away from the traffic-snarled or grim subway commute. 

Isolation and escape were the bywords here. And when we look at the typical tourism advertising of old, it reflects these desires: quiet beaches, no emails, a life completely separated from the one you’ve left at home. 

But following a year when social ties and other types of vital connective tissue have been severed due to Covid, what will the new imperatives be? Will we want our friends and community networks with us when we relax? 

There are many signs pointing to yes. Anecdotally, the grab-your-friends-and-go surge in US-based travel is apparent to anyone that has set foot in an airport or on a plane post-vaccine. But it has also been a larger industry trend. 

Emerging businesses like AvantStay, as well as established players like Vrbo, are seeing a surge in demand for group-focused accommodation. And these aren’t rented party houses for a bachelor’s weekend: they are experiences built from the ground up to create something more hospitable for travel in larger groups. 

AvantStay creates a layer of boutique-style comforts across the series of properties that it manages, so everything is geared for an optimal experience for a group trip. The company leases the homes outright, lists them and then has designers refurnish and decorate them for a group of friends or family traveling together. Think communal activities and layouts conducive to comfort (lots of bathrooms, shared areas and backyards for cookouts), custom-designed to take the unpredictability out of group travel. They’re even solving group payments in the booking process, so one person doesn’t get stuck with the charge on their card and having to chase their friends for that overdue Venmo

In the past, boutique hotels were small jewel boxes that personified the vision of their owners. This is still true, but we are starting to see places that smartly reflect this emerging group travel dynamic: the equation that seems to work is smart design and worldview plus shared interest or activity. 

The Courts is a small property in Palm Springs with four tennis courts and a series of designed but minimal mobile trailers. The idea is you gather up a group of friends, stay for the weekend and play to your heart’s content. Of course, you could do this at a resort like Hyatt Indian Wells, but there’s something fresh in the indie, homespun approach. Especially when you haven’t seen your friends in a year. 

Budding travel business owners should take note: one could also squint and see a larger concept when you look at Cookhouse, a small Airbnb that caters to people who want to escape and try out recipes. The owners outfitted the place with high-end everything, but one could imagine the right person taking this hugely popular shared interest and building a boutique around it. 

These new ideas for hospitality are labors of love that can cover costs and turn a profit in time. And with the rise of modular construction, 3D printing and other ingenious approaches (RVs and Airstreams for starters), this need not require a huge bank loan. Looking forward, I’m intrigued by how shared accommodation and psychographic-driven micro-resorts will reshape small group travel. We need new ideas.

This article was first published in Courier issue 42, August/September 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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