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August 18, 2009

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Resort strips out luxury with 'Survivor Package'

FOR their one-and-only family getaway this year, the Billingtons checked in to a San Diego resort in the United States on Sunday with many of the usual vacation accessories - bathing suits, board games and golf clubs.

But they also brought flashlights, sleeping bags and an inflatable mattress because the pool-side room they booked for just US$19 comes with a tent where the beds normally would be. They even had to pack their own toilet paper.

While many of southern California's luxury hotels are battling a severe slump in business by offering extra services and more amenities, the Rancho Bernardo Inn is luring guests with the exact opposite - no frills and barely any basics.

Called the "Survivor Package," the hotel's deeply discounted promotion lets patrons trim its standard US$219-per-night rate on a sliding scale of deprivation, lowering charges with each amenity stripped from the room.

The most basic version: a room for US$19 with no bed, toilet paper, towels, air-conditioning or "honor bar," and only a single light bulb in the bathroom for safety. The next level up adds in a bed - sans sheets - for US$39 a night. For a bed plus toiletries and toilet paper, the rate is US$59.

Maureen Carew, assistant general manager of the four-star inn, called the promotion "clever marketing."

She said Rancho Bernardo's promotion drew 240 bookings at the US$19 rate and 116 at the US$39 rate.

Herman Billington, 39, a personal trainer who owns his own business, says it's the only vacation he, his wife and their two sons, aged 9 and 10, plan to take this year. "The boys get to feel like they're camping, and I get to go to the spa," said their mother, Erica Billington, 37.

Luxury hotels and resorts have fallen on hard times during the recession, as corporate travel planners shy away from lavish spending and consumers plan thrifty, if any, vacations.

Across the industry, occupancy rates have dropped about 10 percent, Carew said. The slump has pushed room rates down, with many of California's upscale properties adding a breakfast, a round of golf or extra night's stay for free.

The outlook for the rest of 2009 is bleak, according to Smith Travel Research, which predicts that US hotel revenue per available room will fall 17 percent by the end of the year.


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