Canadians Seek Extended Stay at Laurel Point

Written by Posted On Monday, 13 February 2006 16:00

Escaping a couple of weeks of winter weather sounds great, but Canadians without school-aged children to contend with, should consider extended-stay vacationing and get a real break from winter -- without the cost and responsibility of owning a second property.

Extended stay is also an excellent way to try out a different lifestyle, a new location or life in a highrise before you commit to buying a new home and making an expensive move. For instance, if you have always lived in a suburban house, would you feel comfortable in a waterfront highrise condominium? "Extended" or "long-stay" usually means 3 to 8 weeks or more in the travel business.

British Columbia's Laurel Point Inn , a resort-style hotel located on Victoria's picturesque inner harbour, is a wonderful example of the luxurious economy of extended stay vacationing. This independently-owned landmark property offers wonderful views from every room. Situated on its own peninsula, there are numerous waterside walks to enjoy.

Hotel facilities include an indoor pool, Japanese garden, a lounge that has nightly live entertainment, a stunning terraced restaurant and shuttle service the few blocks to downtown Victoria. Maple paneling, ceiling-to-floor windows and blush marble flooring make this a warm, inviting environment on even on a rainy day. In short, luxury living, but if you stay more than 30 days, you'll pay a fraction of the standard room rates -- C$70 a night instead of C$144 for a double/king guest room.

When guest rooms or suites are rented on extended stay, complimentary unobtrusive portable mini-kitchennette units are added. Guests tend to combine do-it-yourself meals with hotel services and dinner out.

One couple rents the same two-storey suite with stunning panoramic views for 60 nights each year as their Victoria pied-a-terre rather than face the year-round responsibility of owning a house or condominium. The full-service, Arthur Erikson -designed environment suits their lifestyle more than a furnished rental apartment.

BC winters are mild, but Canadians have traditionally bought foreign properties in warmer climes to snowbird their way through winter. Rising real estate values coupled with steadily increasing property taxes, energy costs and travel insurance push the dream of a international second home out of reach for many Canadians. Rather than clocking up credit card debt to get away, consider extended stay vacationing, an ideal solution since paying less does not mean settling for less.

"There was a natural increase to long-stay travel, other than to the Southern States, from the late eighties as the US exchange rate increased rapidly," said Kevin Kalbfleisch, General Manager for Eastern Canada for Signature Vacations . "Those coming into 50-plus have time to take weeks off and they have had greater travel experience and are more savvy. They're more cosmopolitan and may not be looking for that few months in Florida. A lot of people that are retired are doing a snowbird experience, but doing it in 3 separate chunks rather that just a winter home experience."

Signature Vacations, one arm of a worldwide group headquartered in the UK, is filling a lull in British and German travel to Portugal by opening its Canadian extended stay program. Booming European summer travel has created many hotels, apartments and other tourist facilities that are underutilized January to March -- perfect timing for Canadians looking for warm, non-snowy weather, a change of scene and an anglo-friendly culture. The heavy British traffic has made English prevalent. Medical facilities and other services are highly rated.

"When we are looking for a hotel to support 4 weeks or more in a destination, we are looking for something different than 'beach and sun,' so we look for apartments and apartments with hotels attached," explained Kalbfleisch, describing the three Signature extended-stay programs in Portugal and Mexico.

Apart-hotel suites combine the best of independent, lower-cost apartment living and the catered comfort of hotel dining and other facilities. Kalbfleisch quotes 8-week stays in a one-bedroom apartment at a recently-built apart-hotel in Portugal for about C$2,000 including airfare. During summer peak season, that accommodation would cost over C$8,000.

Kalbfleisch suggests trying a location for 1, 2 or 3 weeks before signing up for 6 or more weeks. Travel agents can arrange tours that combine with extended stay. That extra organizational support and companionship can also help new travelers settle in more comfortably. To avoid having your extended stay turn into a stranding, search out travel organizations that have staff at the chosen destination unless you know the language and country well.

Overwintering in a hotel is not a new idea as many of you know. Shifting from frantic "pack-it-all-in" family holidays to adopt a more a leisurely, but not necessarily less active, lifestyle experience can take some practice, but what fun you'll have in the process. If you have more than 10 long-stay companions, you might be able to start your own group and save even more.

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