In April, Israel Benyair, general manager of the Mayflower Inn, got a phone call from a man looking to make a reservation. Located two hours outside of New York City in Washington, Connecticut, the Mayflower has long been an idyllic weekend getaway. But this inquiring guest didn’t want to stay two days, or even two weeks. He wanted to stay two full months.
The Mayflower Inn is just one of many hotels seeing a rise in long-term hotel stays, driven by urbanites seeking to spend their summers elsewhere during the COVID-19 pandemic. Auberge Resorts, owner of the Mayflower, tells Vogue they have multiple properties, including the Madeline in Telluride, that are seeing a 300% increase year over year for their average length of stay. “We have literally families moving in, taking four or five rooms, for periods of two weeks, four weeks, six weeks,” C.E.O. Craig Read says. The White Elephant in Nantucket has also seen an uptick in reservations for six weeks or more. Their three-bedroom cottages are particularly popular, according to Bettina Landt, their general manager.
This type of prolonged getaway once belonged to eras past, to the Gilded Age's ladies of leisure or well-to-do F. Scott Fitzgerald characters in Tender Is the Night. Come the late 20th and 21st centuries, a standard timetable came to be dictated by American corporate culture: two weeks maximum. But when office buildings across the country closed due to the Coronavirus, employees with funds to spare could now work from the location of their choosing (which, as it turned out, was often not a cramped city apartment). “COVID-19 has changed the world in incalculable ways, including the fact that where we work and live are now one and the same. The work-from-home scenario has opened the door for people to base themselves from anywhere, whether it’s their city apartment, suburban colonial, or a beach in Nantucket. Enter the extended vacation,” says Misty Belles, managing director at luxury concierge company Virtuoso. Many of her company’s clients are opting for weeks or months-long stays at hotel villas, which provide amenities like kitchens, living rooms, and private vehicles. With summer camps across the country cancelled, some are even bringing along private counselors for their children. Belles herself, a DC native, is spending the month of August in Colorado with her family.
The long-term hotel stay isn’t only caused by this newfound geographic flexibility. Airlines have drastically cut their flight schedules, travel bans are still intact, and some places, ranging from Maine to Vienna, have mandatory 14-day quarantines upon arrival. Then there’s the anxious question of safety: even with a flattened curve, would-be travelers wonder if their health could be endangered by flying and public transportation. Landt saw this shift at the White Elephant, whose average reservation used to be two to three days. “Normally our guests plan multiple trips to multiple destinations throughout the spring, summer, fall months. Now in the attempt to limit their travel they are choosing us as their one location for a vacation and extending their time,” she says.
How are hotels handing this seismic, sudden shift in clientele? Out in Montauk, Jayma Cardoso is trying to figure it out. Her hotel, The Surf Lodge, was once geared to Friday-Sunday stays, filled with young professionals looking to have a good time at one of the hotel’s rowdy summer concerts. Many rooms didn’t even have closets, as guests rarely stayed long enough to unpack. Cardoso soon realized that, if she wanted to open this summer, she needed to pivot fast. In went closets, televisions, and warming plates, mini-fridges and minibars filled with snacks. AC units and bedding were replaced. Currently, Cardoso is toying with the idea of using an app for room service, and setting up lobster roll to-go boxes for the beach. In June, she made her big announcement—The Surf Lodge, unlike some Hamptons stalwarts such as Sunset Beach, would indeed reopen. Rooms, however, were now only available on a $10,000-per-month basis, or for the season. “We’re reinventing ourselves,” she says.
So far, her plan is working: The Surf Lodge, says Cardoso, is almost sold out for August. Her guest demographic now include families and a writer working on their book. “It’ll be like a home for the 50 people who are staying here—like a little family,” she says.
It’s a bittersweet change for Cardoso, a maestro of the merry Montauk vibe: The Surf Lodge, once a Page Six staple for its buzzy patrons and rose-fueled antics, is now suddenly a laid back, long-term getaway. Even with the hefty price tag, she estimates they’ll break even at best, as their restaurant and outdoor concert deck remain closed. (She thought about opening them, but the risk of patrons interacting was too high: “I don't even think there's a way to safely open, even at 25% occupancy. What am I going to do if people see someone they know and ignore social-distance rules? Chase them with a stick?”)
Yet it’s a necessary change, and—with a vaccine still far on the horizon—perhaps one that will last. “Am I hopeful that come May 2021, there is [a vaccine]? Yes. Is that realistic? I don’t know," she says. "I want to have the lights on in the safest way I know how.”