Travel discounts for the jobless
Tourism industry's latest promos target people with free time
Pink slip travelers, furlough tourists, jobless vacationers: Tourism industry's latest promos target people with free time. (Tribune Co. photo)
Discounts are nothing new during tough economic times, but airlines, hotels, resorts and other tourism merchants are going a step further, exploring a market long considered tough to crack.
The deals began to surface in February with offers by JetBlue Airways and a British airline to refund fares for travelers who had recently been laid off. Since then, other businesses have jumped in with discounted ski lift tickets for furloughed California state employees, free hotel stays for recently laid-off workers and "job loss" insurance for cruise passengers.
Analysts and travel industry officials say the special discounts and other super-low travel deals may not generate a big enough uptick in revenue needed to pull the struggling travel industry out of the recession-fueled funk of the last year or so. But the deals, they say, may help ease the pain for travelers who would otherwise stay close to home and may help travel merchants struggling to fill empty hotel rooms, cruise ships and jetliners.
"Everyone wins," said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, a national nonprofit umbrella group for the industry. "Is it the magic bullet that will turn things around for the industry? Maybe not, but it's a very nice step."
Deals for laid-off workers got under way after automaker Hyundai began its assurance program in January. Under the Hyundai deal, a car buyer who loses his or her job within 12 months of buying a car can return the vehicle to the dealership.
CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., a leading network of cruise retailers, borrowed the idea directly from Hyundai and announced in February the CruiseAssurance plan. The plan gives customers who book a cruise the option of canceling at any time, even during the cruise, if they are laid off.
Steven Hattem, vice president of marketing for the sister companies, said he believes the deal will give travelers peace of mind when considering whether to take a cruise vacation.
"With this, consumers can truly make a decision without the concern, 'Will I have a job or not?' " he said.
Companies that offer hotel deals for laid-off workers say the idea is not as crazy as it sounds. After all, a worker who has been laid off has the free time to take a longer vacation, they argue. Plus, a vacation may be just what a burned-out worker needs before finding a new job, they add.
"Lots of people get laid off with severance packages, so they have money," said Will Candis, a spokesman for Recreo Costa Rica, a luxury villa resort in Costa Rica that is offering a free night stay for recently laid off workers who book four nights. "It may seem self-indulgent, but vacations are very rejuvenating."