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Hotels offer ‘schoolcations’ to attract travelers

Kathleen Reidenbach, Kimpton Chief Commercial Officer, joins The Final Round to discuss how the Kimpton Hotels are adapting to coronavirus and its new innovation to help parents with homeschooling their kids.

Video Transcript

JEN ROGERS: The whole travel and leisure industry, we all know, has been hit very hard by the pandemic-- airlines and hotels. And a lot of those companies are trying to pivot and figure out new ways of continuing to get customers in their door. And I want to bring in the chief commercial officer of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Kathleen Reidenbach.

So Kathleen, Kimpton is trying to actually attract parents and students. Hilton has just done a program. They're trying to get remote workers to come. You guys are going after a different demographic. Tell us what you're trying to do.

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: So one of the things we noticed that as work was continuing to go remote and schools are going remote, there was an interesting opportunity to see how family vacations were evolving. You know, typically, families are restricted to the standard summer holidays, Christmas holidays, spring break.

But now there's an opportunity for people to kind of explore the world, get out, hop in the car, and venture a little bit, get a little bit of a change of scene. So we thought that there was an interesting opportunity for us to introduce the new Chief Virtual Learning Officer Program. It's an opportunity for us to sort of ease the pain of working remote and going to school remote and making sure that we don't have any hiccups along the way.

JEN ROGERS: I mean, I love the idea. I think it sounds really fun. How many people have actually taken you up on this? Have you guys seen any demand?

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: So it's early days in the program. But in fact, October is turning out to be one of our strongest months ever. It's really been a tremendous amount of leisure travelers that we're seeing coming through our doors.

And I think the idea that there is flexibility in travel-- typically checkout times are in the middle of the school day, and that's easy. So knowing that there are some things that we can do and adjusting checkout times or perhaps bringing a bag lunch to the kids while they're working can really help to ensure that the breaks are as useful as possible and as screen free as possible.

DAN ROBERTS: Kathleen, Dan Roberts here. Thanks for joining us.

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: Hi.

DAN ROBERTS: If we zoom out a little, you know, recently, on one of our live shows, we had the head of the AHLA. And he was just expanding on the idea that while it's been fun and interesting and maybe juicy to wonder about when and whether people are comfortable yet traveling for pleasure, he said leisure travel is not the issue.

The thing that's killing hotels and also airlines right now and making it so hard to bounce back is the lack of business travel. I mean, companies just aren't having people travel for business right now. Is this initiative by you guys, in a way, a form of business travel or encouraging people to come and work while also staying at a hotel?

And talk to us a little about that effort because, obviously, you know, as long as summits and conferences remain remote and as long as in-person business meetings aren't happening, it's going to be a slog, a long road back for hotels, and including Kimpton.

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: It's definitely a time to get creative and think about who was coming through our doors, particularly in those city center locations, Monday through Thursday. It was a lot of business travelers, people coming in for work retreats and offsites and using our big ballrooms for big showcases and sales conferences.

So it's an opportunity for us to really reimagine what to do with some of those meeting spaces. If you thought, you know, of parents and two kids traveling, everyone crammed in a room, and Dad's got to do or Mom's got to do a big sales presentation, where are you supposed to do that?

So we're sort of thinking about, you know, can that be done off of our rooftops by our pools, or can we use some of our meeting spaces that might be sitting empty as places where people can really work and get that sales pitch and close the sale remotely?

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Kathleen, it's Seana. I just want to go back to one of the comments that you made earlier. And you said that this was one of the best months that you guys have had ever. Is that just in terms of since the beginning of the pandemic, the beginning of this program that you're laying out, or what is that timeline?

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: So since COVID, so sort of since COVID hit us, we've seen sort of a ramp-up, July, getting our sea legs, August, people getting a little bit more comfortable. And then moving into September and October, it's been a steady ramp.

I think no one was really sure what the fall was going to look like because we'd seen so much leisure travel. Is that going to come to a halt when the kids go back to school? But in fact, we've seen that there's sort of a thirst to get out there and change the scene for those that are able to do so. And we want to make sure that we make that flexible.

SEANA SMITH: And Kathleen, to what extent are you hoping that this new program is going to help offset some of the losses, just the fact that we are seeing improvement, people are more willing to travel. But there is, like Dan was just talking about, there's still a lot of hesitancy out there, just in terms of people feeling comfortable staying at hotels.

KATHLEEN REIDENBACH: Exactly. We've really made sure that the cleanliness protocols that we're following, whether those are national guidelines or local guidelines, are there, as well as sort of instituting our own Kimpton clean promise, where we have plexiglass dividers at the front desk. We have social distancing signals and signage around the property. Masks are required in every single Kimpton hotel and restaurant.

So, important to make sure that we sort of pair the experience as clean and safe, but also an opportunity to adventure and to get out. But it is this unique balance. We want to make sure that people are comfortable and safe and excited to have some fun.

JEN ROGERS: Kathleen Reidenbach, chief commercial officer at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. I have a business idea for you, but it involves just taking my children and teaching them. And I don't go. But I don't know. That's probably not going to work.