Industry Research

Staycations: Dirty Word or Economic Stimulus?

Posted on May 1, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

With the economy in a rut, many people this year are opting for a “staycation” instead of a more expensive vacation.

If you are a tour operator, the mere mention of a staycation may put a chill through your business. Cities have begun to look inward by promoting their attributes to local residents in anticipation of a dropoff in out-of-town vacationers.

Charter and tour companies willing to adapt can capitalize on this new market of locals to replace the shrinking out-of-town visitor business.

Simple Stats

  • About 1.3% fewer Americans are expected to fly this summer than last summer, according to the Air Transport Association.
  • The average North American vacation will cost $244 per day for two people for lodging and meals, according to the American Automobile Association.
  • New York City expects tourism to drop 5% in 2009, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism bureau. The city is telling its local residents to spend time getting to know their city. Savvy tour operators will piggyback on these efforts to gain new clients. Tourism is one of the many areas that have fallen victim to this recession. Tour and charter operators should consider designing “staycation tours” aimed at locals.

Atypical Tour Packages

Los Angeles-baSed Esotouric has built its model around the homegrown tourist market, creating unusual tours that spotlight many different aspects of Los Angeles.

Owners Kim Cooper and her husband, Richard Schave, have partnered with American Transportation to bring local interest tours to its clientele. They spend hours researching tours which not only will be interesting, but will keep its riders coming back. Repeat customers are a staple to their business.

Esotouric uses word of mouth and local press to promote its tours. “We do one press release a week and send it out to all of our local media,” Cooper explains. “We also put flyers on the Art Walk buses promoting the tours. Art Walk is a very popular free event in the downtown development district. We manage the free transportation. We have found that the people who are there are very interested in our tours.”

Developing hometown tours requires operators to pay attention to the details. For Esotouric, the tour routes are often difficult to maneuver in large buses. “We have specific drivers who we consistently use for these tours who understand the routes and who can maneuver the buses.”

The bus drivers also have gotten to know the tours and add to the program. Esotouric develops a video package that runs on buses along with the tours. Their “Raymond Chandler” tour includes one of the only taped interviews with Chandler in which he was interviewed by Ian Fleming. The tour shows the writer’s view of Los Angeles with a Philip Marlowe flair.

The tours allow both Esotouric and American to gain visibility for their companies. Included in the homegrown tours are separate tours themed around crime, architecture, and literature.

“We use the archives of the Los Angeles Times to find subjects for our tours,” Cooper says. “We find things like haunted houses where crazy murders took place. We bring back stories that would have been the talk of the town in their day. There is money to be made in every community. You just have to take the time to do the research to find subjects of interest.”

Typical Tour Operators Can Appeal to Staycationers

Lakeland Bus Lines of Dover, N.J., develops custom tours that appeal to locals. “We try to come up with tours that will have a wide appeal to a broad range of people,” says Bob Roth, tour coordinator for Lakeland Bus. “We have done baseball games, theater tours, city tours. . . you name it. We advertise our tours locally and have created a tremendous database of people who have gone on our tours in the past who we also market to.”

About half of Lakeland’s tours are attended by seniors, but the company now sees a broader range of people taking tours. It’s not unusual to see people bringing their grandchildren on tours, Roth says. College students and adults of all ages are considering day tours as an option to have an adventure close to home.

Not every tour has instant success, Roth says. “We get some trips that will sell out fast and others that will take a little longer to develop a following. We watch and track what works.”

Marketing Staycations

Staycation tours require more creative avenues for marketing. For the more typical tours, operators may use their regular avenues of promotion, but the message may need to change.

The focus will now need to be on value. Bus travel compared to airline travel is relatively hassle-free and much more comfortable. The amenities available today in buses often surpasses those of an airplane and even better still — there is no middle seat. Brent Green, owner of Brent Green and Associates, a marketing firm that focuses on baby boomers, suggests targeting demographics when preparing tours.

“This August is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock,” Green says. “A savvy tour operator will develop a tour which takes participants to the town of Bethel, N.Y. and visits the Woodstock Museum. Along the way, footage could be broadcast reliving the events of that weekend. Woodstock is a part of history that is of interest to many baby boomers,” he explains.

Promoting this type of tour could be done in partnership with music stores or instrument stores where individuals interested in music frequent. Brent cautions that you really need to understand your focus demographic.

“Baby boomers don’t like the static tours that their predecessors did,” Green says. “Tours which have a number of stops along the way where you get on and off a bus would be less appealing than one where they have different options to do various things. Baby boomers like to combine education and learning with relaxation.” Staycations can offer tour and charter operators a method to keep their buses rolling. Be creative in your thinking and marketing, and you will reap the benefits.

Developing A Staycation Tour

  • Pick venues that allow the tour to be completed in the same day
  • Develop tour partners
  • Be aware of current events in your area
  • Research, research, research
  • Seek advice of experts

Potential Partners for Staycations:

  • Malls and outlet centers
  • Local Convention and Visitors Bureaus
  • Local historical associations
  • Museums
  • Local theme parks
  • Clubs and associations

Types of Staycation Tours


  • Shopping
  • Festivals
  • Dinner and shows
  • Theme parks
  • Sporting events

Unusual Themes

  • Ghost tours
  • Architectural tours
  • Historical
  • Literary
  • Crime
  • The paranormal
  • Aliens
  • Monsters
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