When Kathy Potvin told her grandson she was considering breaking a tradition of visiting Ocean Park, Maine, last summer, the 7-year-old protested.
"But we've always gone there," he told Potvin, a librarian from Nashua, N.H. "He said, 'Please, can we go back?' "
Her family had returned to the same hotel every year since her grandson was 18 months old. She couldn't say "no."
"He spent almost an hour in the car on the way up, talking about going to Snail Rocks, catching crabs, walking to the ice cream store, feeding the seagulls, riding his boogie board, going to Chicago Dogs," she recalled. "Honestly, I was thrilled. It's those kinds of traditions and memory buildings that is a huge part of the appeal of the same old, same old, and make us behave like Capistrano swallows."
This is the time of year when most winter vacations are booked, and Christmas and New Year's getaways tend to be repeats like the Potvins' -- a trip to a favorite mountain resort or a city near family.
Redundancy has a lot of value, both for travelers and for the travel business.
Visit. Have fun. Repeat.
"People want a sure thing," said Anne Campbell, a travel expert who edits the site ShipCritic Blog (www.shipcriticblog.com). "They want to know where they're going, they want something safe and easy that they like. Repeat customers are important to the travel industry, too."
Repeat business is critically important to the travel industry, particularly to hotels. It's difficult to quantify how essential repeat customers are, but a recent survey of spa hotels found that more than three-quarters of all visitors were repeat guests. In other words, if people didn't return, occupancy rates would drop faster than a hot stone falling off a massage table. Some hotels might go out of business.
"At a time like this, repeat guests are very special," said Robert Mandelbaum, the director of research information services at PKF Hospitality Research in Atlanta. "They're the base of your business, from a hotel's point of view."
But other than more personalized service, and the health of the travel industry, what's in it for you?
A study conducted by the University of North Carolina found repeat vacationers benefit in several ways:
- The odds that they'll have an "unsatisfactory experience" are lower.
- They're more likely to find "their kind of people" when they get there.
- There's an emotional attachment to the place.
- They're able to experience aspects of a destination they may have missed the last time they were there.
Put another way, if they had fun last time, they're more likely to have fun next time.
If vacations are about discovery, then repeat vacations are about going more than skin-deep.
Visitors can learn a lot by getting someone who knows the area to show them around. A Los Angeles Times reporter recently took the "insider" tour of Oahu from Jorge Garcia, an actor on the hit television show, Lost. The tour included some stops even some Hawaiians may not visit, like Kualoa Ranch.
Most destinations have historical societies with members who are dedicated to keeping the memories and traditions of a place alive for future generations.
Returning to a resort that you've already visited can be like coming home. You know where everything is -- the closest restroom, the ice machine, the concierge desk. Also, you've already got the locations of the most affordable restaurants and grocery stores.
At a time like this, when everyone is watching the bottom line, the savings in time or money can be significant, according to industry experts. A 2010 YPartnership survey found that a quarter of American travelers had taken a staycation (defined as a trip within a 50 mile radius with one overnight) this year, mostly as the result of economic concerns. That's a more than 10 percent increase from the previous year.
Staycations are a subset of repeat vacations, because they often take you somewhere familiar.
The Extra Mile
Also, repeat guests are often given preferential treatment, whether it's an upgrade or a free appetizer with dinner.
Airlines and Las Vegas resorts have made catering to their most loyal customers an art form. After you've been to the same place five times and everyone knows your name, you get certain benefits, like priority seating at dinner or a better room.
Best of all, these perks are often given to you without having to ask. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't: If you're a frequent guest and you're not being recognized for it, you might want to sign up for a hotel loyalty program.
Coming back to the same place has its benefits. Remember: A repeat doesn't necessarily mean it's redundant.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.