Bargain packages for the weekend traveler

On weekdays the air shuttles are packed with the attach'e set, zipping in and out of the major business cities. They fill the hotels, too. But when they go home for the weekend the hotels are left with sizable gaps. That's good news for their families, but bad news for the hotels. To counter this flux, hotels, as well as resort areas and cruise lines, are coming up with enticements designed to lure you from your TV set and get you away for the weekend. Last year, the Marriott Hotel people came up with a blockbuster.

Nicholas Hill of the Marriott chain explained: ``In 1986 we introduced the $49-a-day weekend from January to April. It was the first systemwide offering of its kind. It meant that as many as a family of five could stay in select rooms for that price. It was so successful we did another major promotion last winter. This time we offered a room for $59 complete with breakfast for two. Basically it was to offer our product to the weekend traveler.''

Other hotel chains quickly followed suit.

Now, according to James V. Cammisa Jr., a New York-based travel industry consultant, ``There's a real shift toward the short vacations, and also a recognition of an increase in the combined business and pleasure vacations. Hotels are devoting an exceptional amount of promotion to these weekends.''

These mini-vacations often work on the basis of the work-travel member or members of the family extending a stay and taking advantage of the reduced weekend rate. Often the business member is joined by spouse and family.

A recent poll of 1,500 people sponsored by Marriott indicated that 73 percent of all pleasure trips in 1986 were three days or less. Nearly 60 percent of these were taken on weekends.

``It's been really good for the entire hotel industry,'' says Mr. Hill. ``Airlines, for the most part, aren't promoting it, but the astute businessman can figure out that, say, Tuesday to Sunday, air fares are a lot lower than, say, the Monday-to-Friday rates.''

Hill mentions, too, that frequent-flier bonuses are often being used to cut flying costs.

Steve Trombetti, spokesman for the American Hotel & Motel Association, offers another observation:

``I'm surprised to see [the trend toward more weekend trips] extend through summer, when people normally take their two- and three-week trips. Some people have called it the demise of the traditional vacation,'' Mr. Trombetti continues. He doesn't go that far himself, but mentions the growing number of what he calls ``spontaneous'' two- and three-day business-extender trips and those geared to the independent traveler.

``There's also a trend to using hotels for holiday hosting,'' Trombetti says. ``Frequently, married couples are working and don't want to spend time entertaining at home. Hotels make these stays attractive on holidays by providing everything from home-style or gourmet meals to handing out `doggie bags' for taking home leftovers, to setting aside a dining room, or special room for family entertaining.''

For the peripatetic weekend traveler there are several calendars on sale in bookstores pinpointing events in areas near you. These feature major arts and music festivals as well as some offbeat offerings. How else could you learn about the 1988 Halloween for Pets fete in Potomac, Md., or the Balloon Festival bash in Quechee, Vt.? Or how would you find out about Dinosaur Day at the Science Museum in Springfield, Mass.?

If shopping weekends appeal to you, look into various limousine service deals. A few hours in a chauffer-driven limo is not outrageously expensive if shared with friends, and it could save renting a car, driving about in a city that may be unfamiliar to you, and putting up with parking hassles.

If you go

You might want to check with your travel agent about weekend savings. Also, check the travel section of your newspapers. A recent Sunday section offered bargains at establishments ranging from the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., to the Boca Raton Hotel and Club in Florida, to a Murder Mystery Weekend in Buck Hill Falls, Pa., to fall offerings in country inns. Most hotel chains have toll-free numbers.

Some publishers have come out with away-for-the-weekend books. These, too, zero in on certain sections of the country. Check out the following: ``Weekend Escapes'' ($6.95), Rand McNally; the ``Away for the Weekend'' series ($9.95), Clarkson N. Potter Inc.; ``Favorite Weekends in New England'' ($8.95), Yankee Books; and ``Daytrips, Getaway Weekends, and Budget Vacations'' ($10.95), Globe Pequot Press.

A New Jersey firm, ``Weekends on the Road,'' will plan an itinerary for clients specializing in little-known events in the US. It also offers a quarterly newsletter. Write Box 4262, River Edge, NJ 07661.

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