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Homestead resort in Virginia offers an activity package including golf and spa

Golf is just one of the all-you-can-do-for-one-price activities at the Homestead.
Golf is just one of the all-you-can-do-for-one-price activities at the Homestead. (The Homestead)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Relax at the Homestead? Not on my watch. I had too much riding on this trip: The $110 extra I had paid for the Unlimited Activities package.

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The regal resort in the Virginia wilds unveiled the special last summer to draw people through its columned portico. From $295 a night, guests receive a room plus unconditional access to a selection of diversions that, when priced separately, cost plenty more. The small print: You must take advantage of these activities -- several of them, in fact -- if you want your investment to pay off.

"With this package, people go wild trying to fit it all in," said George, who led my archery session and later drove the tractor for my hayride.

Since the economic downturn, packages have become more prolific and popular as travel suppliers look for value-added ways to cajole us out of the house. The strategy is pretty simple: Tack extra amenities, such as spa treatments or two meals a day, onto the basic vacation and charge below the list price. If it's a good, honest package, the whole should cost less than the individual parts.

"The concept of packaging is very much in vogue today because of the recent financial problems," said Peter Yesawich, chairman of Ypartnership, a marketing service that specializes in travel. "Bundling is in; unbundling is out."

Not surprisingly, consumers gravitate to trips that are rich in experience yet light on the wallet and easy to plan. A study by Ypartnership found that, in the first quarter of this year, six out of 10 travelers considered packages a "very desirable attribute." Additionally, Yesawich said, packages have really mushroomed in the past two years. "The supplier can give away stuff that's low-margin, like a couple of drinks or a round of golf, and hold on to the stuff that has a higher margin, like the hotel room," he said. "For the consumer, it's a wonderful way of managing down the cost of a vacation."

A cynic might question the suppliers' motives. Why, an incredulous person might ask, are the companies giving away extras for free or for a fraction of the cost? Were these items worthless to begin with, or are the operators really that generous, willing to sacrifice revenues for our pleasure?

"You don't have to be skeptical, but should you be savvy?" asked Donna Quadri-Felitti, a clinical assistant professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. "Yes."

Packages are the cookies that suppliers wag before our faces, hoping we'll bite. Once we're hooked, they hope we'll spend beyond the package, in the bar, the gift shop, the restaurant or the spa. "The hotel is betting on you opening your wallet when you are there," said Scott Berman, hospitality and leisure practice leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "When you have a chardonnay in your hand, you'll feel the urge to splurge."

Yet before you plunk down money for a package, it's important to perform some self-analysis and elementary math.

First, consider whether those additional amenities are to your taste. If you typically eat a muffin for your morning meal, then the breakfast plan is a waste. But if you're an avid golfer, the greens fee deal is a perfect match, especially if it includes multiple rounds and a cart. "If two or three items don't meet your needs, don't get it," said Quadri-Felitti. "But if you're someone who takes advantage of everything, then you've won."

To test the numbers, break down the package into its components, checking the figures online or by phone. Then add them up and decide: package or a la carte. "The consumer has such an advantage today with all of the available tools online," said Berman. "It's a pretty easy math assignment."


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