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3 ways to invest in travel now for more perks in the future

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
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The question every traveler seems to be asking: When will this be over?

We want to get back on the road, up in the air, into hotel rooms and onto new adventures. With the future difficult to predict during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no guarantee of when those trips can safely take place.

Though travel timelines are in flux, there are ways for people to both invest in future trips and help the devastated hospitality industry along the way.

Hotel and restaurant bonds

When she saw how detrimental the coronavirus pandemic was to hotels, Rachel Harrison, co-founder of New York-based PR firm Lion & Lamb Communications, and her team started brainstorming ways to help the industry.

They came up with Buy Now, Stay Later, a program that encouraged hotels to sell bonds that would increase in value over time. Customers can purchase a $100 bond that will be worth $150 just 60 days later.

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“I remember when I was 18 years old, my mother gave me these ‘treasury bonds,’ ” Harrison said of the program’s inspiration. “[This program] offers us an opportunity to give a little bit of cash flow to hotels today and then offer stays for later.”

Harrison’s team recruited a few of the PR firm’s hotel clients to adopt the concept, then partnered with ELMNTL, a marketing and advertising agency that agreed to build the Buy Now, Stay Later website for free.

The program grew quickly. Now travelers can browse more than 300 hotels by location to find one to “invest” in. More properties are being added daily. Harrison gets about 50 emails per day from hotels inquiring about the program.

According to Harrison, the program is similar to sales a hotel may use to drum up business in off seasons.

“It’s essentially a 33 percent savings,” says Harrison. “Often hotels will say during low season, ‘We’ll do a stay two nights, third night free.’ So it’s not outside of the realm of what a lot of hotels around the globe already offered during slower periods.”

There’s also a movement for restaurants to sell bonds. The Dining Bond Initiative is a platform providing people access to restaurants and bars on nearly every continent. The restaurants are selling gift cards, vouchers and certificates at prices lower than face value, which can be redeemed over time.

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Gift cards

The Galt House hotel was just finishing an $80 million renovation when the coronavirus pandemic hit. The Louisville property needed to find a way to generate income.

“Obviously, we’re in the same boat as everyone else with travel being reduced down to a screeching halt, and restaurants and bars closed,” said Skip James, the vice president of sales and marketing at AJS Hotels.

James considered gift card programs but wanted to make one that was more approachable than what’s standard in the industry.

“Usually when you see the gift card programs, they are ‘Spend $500, get $100,’ or it’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” James said. “We felt like going in the other direction and really doing something that was more inclusive for a larger audience, especially our local audience.”

So for every $50 Galt House gift card purchased, customers will receive a $25 gift card and a room upgrade, should that gift card be applied to a hotel room. Customers can also use the gift cards at the hotel’s restaurants and bars.

Galt House is not alone in the more-bang-for-your-buck gift card game. Hotels in Florida are also offering gift cards with bonuses. If you have a favorite hotel, or had one on your travel bucket list before the pandemic began, research to see what kind of gift cards they may be offering for the future.

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Restaurant membership collectives

As restaurants around the world were forced to change their business models, one of the most common actions restaurateurs took was to sell gift cards and offer takeout services. But Luis Caviglia, who owns the restaurant software company Meitre, had other ideas to help the industry survive.

To Caviglia, gift cards seemed like a way of postponing restaurants’ cash flow problems. He spoke with people in the restaurant industry around Latin America to come up with other ways of generating income. He started Stellar Collective, a restaurant membership program that promises insider perks for its subscribers, such as priority and last-minute reservations, concierge services and exclusive chef content from top-tier restaurants.

Here’s how it works: restaurant lovers can subscribe to a monthly, annual or premium membership to unlock VIP services. Unlike gift cards, Stellar Collective won’t set restaurants back financially. Because one of the biggest perks of the programs is access to some of the most highly regarded restaurants on Earth, members can take advantage of their subscription by making hard-to-get reservations for later.

Caviglia’s vision for the Stellar Collective was inspired by other travel loyalty programs that offer enrollees special touches whenever they check in to a property or fly with their preferred airline.

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“Yes, you’re paying for the room, but you’re also getting spa passes or you’re getting a complimentary bicycle to explore the city, and you have a concierge that gets you theater tickets,” Caviglia said. “We are very used to that in the hotel industry and the airline industry, but because of the nature of restaurants, there is no one stop for getting hospitality perks across restaurants.”

The Stellar Collective aims to be that one-stop shop. By enrolling in the dining club, currently including many of Latin America’s top restaurants and working on expanding elsewhere, members can expect red carpet treatment at restaurants when they travel.

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