How the pandemic made summer 2020 the summer of hotel buyouts for wealthy travelers

  • All-property buyouts, where one family or group rents out every single room, gained new urgency — and appeal — during the pandemic-constrained summer season.
  • From inns on the coast of Maine to island resorts, buyouts presented an appealing option to travelers looking to minimize their exposure to others.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

 

It was only supposed to be a week-long trip away from New York City for Dan Bassichis.

In mid-March, the divorced private equity exec had taken his two daughters skiing in Vermont. But as the pandemic worsened, Bassichis decided to work remotely and rented a house nearby. He chose a house large enough that it had room to create an extended family bubble and invited not only his ex-wife and her new husband to join them, but also the man's ex-wife and their two sons.

When the rental period expired, the pandemic-era family unit didn't want to come back to the city. Instead, they started looking for an alternative in the country, ideally somewhere with a few more services and convenience – like a hotel. Not content to rent a room or a large suite, though, Bassichis opted to buy out an entire property.

And that's how the group came to turn the Cape Arundel Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, into their own vacation home a short stroll from the Bush family compound on Walker's Point.

The hotel has 24 rooms that stretch across three buildings on the site. Bassichis rented the main, seven-room building; his extended bubble of family and friends took over the other two houses and their 17 rooms. The combined rental for all three came out to $23,200 per week, or $86,000 per month.

"None of us want to be in a hotel with other guests, so sharing a place with other people that we know and trust is perfect, so taking over an inn is the ideal family vacation," Bassichis told Business Insider. That was several months ago. "This has replaced all of our summer trips and also their summer camps. We have tried our best to make the best out of the situation and make this a fun and memorable summer. And since we are a blended, divorced family, the inn gave us all some space, while still being together with our kids."

Hotel owners can quickly reconfigure their properties for buyouts

Hotel buyouts aren't a new idea: For weddings, for instance, smaller properties have long been dragooned into hosting the ceremony and guests alike. But all-property buyouts, where one family or group rents out every single room, have gained new urgency — and appeal — during the pandemic-constrained summer season. The trend holds especially true for upscale travelers like Bassichis.

Justin Grimes is managing director of the group that owns the Cape Arundel Inn and several other boutique properties nearby, the Kennebunkport Resort Collection. Grimes says that the decision to offer buyouts this year was spurred, in part, by former guests. He began receiving calls about buyouts in the spring, before the hotel had even considered how to handle opening for the season; it had shuttered, as usual, over the winter.

It was quickly evident that promoting buyouts would be the best way to approach summer 2020.

"We wanted to help offer additional accommodation options for those trying to distance themselves from dense, multi-family urban settings, as well as try to provide an opportunity for some of our staff to stay employed," he told Business Insider. His team made some adjustments to the property to better suit Bassichis and his extended family: They converted the front desk into a business center with desks and printers and added residential gadgets to the commercial kitchen so the family could cook its own meals.

Grimes doesn't foresee a return to conventional operations soon. Instead, he is planning to focus on buyouts through the fall. The concept might even offer opportunities beyond the conventional summer season: "We are also considering extending the buyout option for this winter, when the hotel is traditionally closed."

From villas to resorts, buyouts are the focus for hospitality this summer

The Cape Arundel Inn isn't an outlier. Many upscale boutique hotels have followed the same strategy throughout the summer or even the entire year. Take Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado. The 12-cabin village in the Rockies has room for 44 people; it now offers buyouts, renting the entire town for $31,000 per night, with a three-night minimum. Or consider Within the Wild, which operates adventure lodges in Southcentral Alaska; those are now available starting at $60,000 per property for three nights – a program the owners dubbed Your Own Private Wilderness.

If you have $250,000 to spare (and an enormous extended family) you could take over the Carneros Resort and Spa in Wine Country, which has more than 100 rooms and two pools on its 28-acre site. Overseas, smaller family groups could consider the eight-room Masseria Trapana.

One of the toniest hotels in Italy's new jetset favorite, Puglia, it is only available on a buyout basis through April 2021. Dior just rented it out for super-influencer Chiara Ferragni when it staged its cruise show in nearby Lecce – a steal at €14,500 per week (around $17,100).

'In a buyout, you'll never have to risk interacting with any other guests'

Island hotels are also an option for guests seeking sunny seclusion — and willing to pay for it.

Consider the British Virgin Islands' Guana Island, which is reopening in October and offers 42 guests the option of self-isolating in barefoot luxury starting at $23,500 per night.

Meanwhile, 69-year Foster Reed, a retired musician from New York's Hudson Valley, plans to take his family and some friends to Golden Rock Inn later this year. Buyouts for the Nevis island resort currently start at $2,860 per night for 22 guests. His neighbors, artists Brice and Helen Marden, just so happen to own the place.

"We were looking for a small place to host my wife's 50th birthday and to celebrate the election," Reed told Business Insider. "It could have been a buyout of a small ranch, or some houses on the Mendocino Coast, but the idea of Golden Rock won out."

Andrei Mocanu is the hotel's general manager alongside his wife Antonia. The idea to offer it as a buyout came to him as the lockdown began in mid-March, and two guests — a doctor from New York and his girlfriend – asked to stay on property for a while. Their request was approved, and they went on to spend six nights on property, clocking up a bill at check-out of $3,600. 

"It was just like a buyout for them: The chef would offer to cook them anything they wanted, and they had a dedicated butler," Mocanu explained. The hotel was locked down soon after the doctor and his girlfriend left, so Mocanu moved on property with his wife and son.

Mocanu and his wife said it's not hard to see how the estate, a former sugar plantation hidden amid lush vegetation on the top of a hill, would be appealing for a self-contained group. "In a post-COVID world, people are going to want to travel more with their friends and family, because they trust them," he explained. "In a buyout, you'll never have to risk interacting with any other guests, or anyone who might have the disease."

Now, the GM has uploaded property tours to Instagram and is planning for a buyout-heavy winter season powered by guests like Foster Reed.

The impact from taking over a hotel can be unexpected

As for Bassichis, he's planning on camping out in a hotel buyout for several more weeks until his group's children need to return to NYC for school.

Over the course of their stay, they became adroit at adapting the property to fit their needs, adding extra drawers to the bedrooms to store more clothes, installing a trampoline by the pool to allow kids to burn off energy, and even turning a corner of the dining room into an arts and crafts station. But after more than six weeks at the Cape Arundel Inn, their extended family bubble moved to a larger sister property, The Lodge on the Cove – again, on a buyout basis.

Their stint as temporary residents in the area has made a lasting impact.

"I will definitely be taking my girls back to this town and the Cape Arundel Inn every summer going forward," Bassichis said. "We can't wait to eat at the restaurant when it opens to the public and see what it's like to stay at the inn with other people. We liked the experience so much that we might even come back with all of our divorced quarantine family, by choice."

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