As Shanghai grapples with its worst outbreak of Covid-19 yet, reporting 3,500 newly transmitted cases on Monday, the government is splitting the city into two.
Residents of Pudong went into a four-day lockdown starting on Monday. People in Puxi start their own lockdown today. And everyone will have to go through two rounds of mass testing for the virus as well.
Schools in the city went back to online learning at the beginning of March, which means that 1.5 million children are already studying at home. Parents around the world who have had to combine full-time work and home schooling for their children know the stress that comes with that. But to make lives a little easier, a few high-end hotels in Shanghai have been offering “studycation” packages – at least until the launch of the week-long lockdowns temporarily curtailed new check-ins. Guests already staying at the hotels will need to stay there a little longer than planned too.
At the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai, there were offers of a four-night package in a river-view suite, with in-room online schooling for one student aged 7-16 years. The deal includes three meals a day for the student, plus regular appearances from a hotel butler (who is supposed to show up every hour or two for up to 15 minutes).
The hotel required that each student be accompanied by an adult, but the adult guest can enjoy discounts across the hotel’s food and beverage outlets, as well as its spa. The idea is that the parents get a bit of pampering, while the butlers do some of the grunt work at getting the kids to study.
Other hotels have followed suit. A search on Ctrip shows that, as of last week, there were as many as 41 “studycation” packages in Shanghai, with prices varying from Rmb588 ($92.53) to Rmb11,000 depending on the length of the stay and what was being offered. For instance, the online study package at Shanghai Qiuzhu Hotel included special services for the students, like milk before bedtime and movies in the hotel lobby. There’s a piano that children can practice on for free. And how about a game of Go?
Outside Shanghai some of the offerings look to be even more inventive: the Purple Palace Hotel in Nanjing has offered ‘aqua golf’ lessons and pastry classes for kids when they are not studying on their screens. Hilton Nanjing is ready with one-on-one lessons in English and Korean, as well as dance classes for more active kids.
“Most of the hotels offering the studycations are mid- to high-end. They mostly target families with higher levels of disposable income. Because the services require a certain number of staff, most budget hotels aren’t able to meet the standard,” says Deep Echo, a news commentator.
Offers of special packages like these look opportunistic but industry insiders say that the hospitality industry is desperate for ways to stem its losses. In an interview with Jiemian, a spokesperson from Suning Universal Hotel said that it had launched an online learning package to meet the needs of parents. But it was also an important source of new revenue at a time when cashflow is tight and hotels need to pay the salaries of their staff.
China’s hotel industry saw some recovery in 2021 after a dismal previous year. But the recovery is far from complete. Huazhu Hotels (formerly known as China Lodging) saw its revenues in the first half of last year reach Rmb5.9 billion, a year on-year increase of 49%. By the third quarter the gains were starting to taper off, however, with sales up just 11.6% on the same period in the previous year. Net losses were Rmb137 million.
Not all parents are sold on the “studycation” concept, of course. Some question how the hotels are any better suited to getting their children to study online. “If a child is misbehaving, how will the hotel handle it? And do the butlers really have what it takes to help the kids figure out their problems with school work?” one parent asked Beijing Business Today. As for the current situation in Shanghai, it may also have now put parents in other Chinese cities off the ‘studycation’ idea, worried that a similar snap lockdown could affect them and their kids in the weeks ahead…
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