Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vacation - Spending Money to Relax?

The best things in life are free, or at least pretty cheap.  This campsite at Mistletoe State Park is about $30 a night.

One funny thing about Americans is that they believe that they have to spend money to have fun.  And people who run vacation resorts know this, and set up the resort so that it is just a series of purchasing decisions.

You go on vacation, buy a plane ticket, book a room at a resort, spend money on restaurant meals, spend more money on tropical drinks, buy the t-shirt, shop in the gift shop, go on the water slide, tip the tour guide.  Repeat.

And nowhere is this more true than on cruises.   The cruise takes vacation and boils it down to its essentials:  Spend money, and then spend more of it.  The cruise ship doesn't really take you anywhere, at least for very long.   You parachute into Jamaica, the Bahamas, or Cancun, for maybe four to eight hours and - whaddya know? - everything you can do there is packaged as paid "shore excursion" that basically involves you spending yet more money.

And yet, lying on a beach, drinking beer (which is what the Corona commercials tell us is "vacation") is pretty much free.  I live at the beach.  It doesn't cost much, let me tell you.
As a savvy resort owner, however, you should present vacation to your customers as a series of financial transactions.   And your customers will willingly cooperate in this venture.   Most vacationers are at a loss as to what they should be doing.   Completely out of their element, they are starving for normative cues as to what their proper behavior should be.   If you come along and say, "OK, everybody get out their wallets and spend your money - this is what you are supposed to be doing now!" people will do just that.

It is comforting for them.  They have a role to play, just like in High School.  And just like in High School, these roles are often self-destructive.   In this case, these roles involve you spending thousands - if not tens of thousands - of dollars to "have a good time".

Disney is expert at this sort of thing.   A stay at a Disney resort, with all the bells and whistles, can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.  As a shareholder, I say, "go for it!".  On a personal level, I would stay at a cheap motel or RV park and buy a day-ticket.

But a lot of families do this, and you can even get a Disney Credit Card, which is pretty Mickey-Mouse, so you can use the "rewards" on your next trip.  And we see the families who buy into this, driving up and down I-95 to and from Orlando, in their mini-vans and SUVs with rocket boxes or Sears "S-Cargo" boxes on the roof.   They adorn the car with Disney stickers and a little black ball with mouse ears on the antenna.   It is a comforting role model - this is what you are supposed to do when you have kids.

(Mickey Mouse is an interesting phenomenon.  "The kids all like Mickey", we say.  But Mickey Mouse really hasn't been on television or appearing in cartoons since the 1940's, perhaps earlier.  Heck, when I was a kid, we never saw him, except as a trademarked icon.   Bugs Bunny?  Yea.  Scooby Doo?  Sure.   But Mickey?  We hardly knew ye.   So it always cracks me up that Mickey is this icon, when in fact, he really isn't starring in anything anymore.  He rarely gets airtime, even on the Disney channel).

And how do they pay for all of this?  Well you can put it on the Mickey-Mouse credit card.  Or you go to your credit union and get a Vacation Loan.  Yes, people actually borrow money to go on vacation, and then spend the rest of the year trying to pay it all back.   This really sucks, as if you don't enjoy your vacation, you have all year to be miserable about it.

This idea that if-you-are-not-spending-money-you-are-not-having-fun is present in all socioeconomic levels.   As I noted before,  Rednecks are convinced you can't have fun unless an internal combustion engine is operating somewhere.   Whether it is a bass boat, a four wheeler, or just a loud an obnoxious generator, if gas ain't a-burning, it isn't a party.

But perhaps there is another way.   Maybe instead of taking only two weeks of vacation a year and burning through $10,000 in those two weeks (I've seen it done!) you can have fun without the meter running.  And as a result, you can have more time for having fun.

America is unique in that it is one of the few Western industrialized countries that provides only two weeks vacation a year.   Most Europeans get four weeks or more - and they take it.  Americans barely take their two weeks - often squandering it on "long weekends" to get caught up on their laundry.

We work obsessively in this country so we can pay our bills.  And the things we pay bills for, we rarely get time to really enjoy.

Maybe it is just me, but I think there is another way.