LIFESTYLE Laid-back, Minimized Vacationing

Do we need to travel to a faraway land for vacation? Recently, a more rational way to enjoy vacation is gaining popularity, especially among young adults. It is to simply relax at a hotel or at home, avoiding the stress and fatigue of a long trip and swarming crowds at popular tourist destinations.

Avoiding crowded beaches, guests of a hotel in Seoul enjoy sunbathing and swimming in a rooftop pool. © Yonhap News Agency

Up until a few years ago, vacation meant a trip to the mountains or beach. But now, more and more Koreans believe traveling a long distance for a short stay is not worth the effort.

Only 42 percent of respondents agreed on the need to go somewhere for their summer vacation in a 2018 survey of 1,000 adults aged between 19 and 59, conducted by market research agency Macromill Embrain. In contrast, 53.2 percent opposed the idea of going anywhere during vacation, because of overcrowded resorts and merchants who prey on unsuspecting tourists. Many respondents also complained about post-travel fatigue they could not shake off.

Under these circumstances, new vacation trends have surfaced in recent years: “hocance” and “homecance.” Both are portmanteaus using vacance, the French word for vacation. The former means a brief stay in a hotel and the latter spending vacation at home.

Escape the Daily Grind
In March, Woo Seung-min, a sports marketing specialist in his 20s, won a raffle drawing for a hocance. He enjoyed an unforgettable overnight stay at a downtown hotel in Seoul. “In fact, you move around according to a prearranged itinerary when you are in a holiday resort,” he said. “In the past, I used to consider a hotel simply as a place to sleep. But the experience of a hocance changed my opinion of hotels.”

After checking in at around 2 p.m., Woo could not linger. He had to leave for a business meeting and did not return until around 10 p.m. He had planned to watch a football match while having fried chicken and beer, a popular choice of individuals and groups when relaxing, but he ditched his plan and opted for a movie on his tablet and snacks from a nearby convenience store. All in all, the restful interlude meant quality time at the fullest to him.

Woo usually skips breakfast. But on the advice of friends, he woke up early and had a substantial meal — a bowl of rice with scrambled eggs, roasted chicken and kimchi. Then he had a massage in the hotel sauna before checking out at about 11 a.m.

“It gave me a chance to escape the daily grind in an unconventional but easy way,” Woo said. “I’d like to enjoy a football hocance with my friends next time.” His plan is to go to a football stadium with his friends in the afternoon to watch a professional match and return to their hotel in the evening to watch a football game on TV while enjoying a big, delicious dinner.

Hotels are crowded with families, lovers, friends and partygoers not only during the summer vacation season; they are booked up during the December holiday season and multi-day holidays such as the Lunar New Year and Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving. Traditionally, families returned to their ancestral hometown to spend their holidays together. But now that families are widely dispersed, following tradition typically means exasperating hours on heavily congested highways. To avoid the ordeal, family members choose to instead meet at a hotel within easy driving distance.

Watching TV with friends or family over drinks and delicacies in a hotel room is a way to escape the daily grind and enjoy free time.© Getty Images

A guest enjoys her free time in a hotel room. Hotels offer a variety of “hocance” packages for those who want to spend quality time without traveling long distances. © Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas

“It gave me a chance to escape the daily grind in an unconventional but easy way. I’d like to enjoy a football hocance with my friends next time.”

Package Deals
The growing popularity of hocance can also be attributed to the reduction of working hours from a maximum of 68 to 52 (40-hour standard plus 12 hours overtime) in July 2018. The government-initiated revision is aimed at promoting a healthier work-life balance. Many people began flocking to hotels after work to pamper themselves with a bit of perfect rest and relaxation. Postings on social media fueled the idea of a brief getaway. In response, some hotels began offering special night packages that include a pool pass and dinner coupons.

“A warm pool” topped the list of the most-searched keywords between December 2018 and February this year, according to an analysis by WITH Innovation, the operator of the accommodation app, “How About Here?” The total number of searches for “a warm pool” and the like increased by about 40 percent year on year. This new trend has also been sparked by an increase of hotels equipped with recreation facilities and social media posts about different types of hocance experiences, WITH Innovation added.

Besides night packages, hotels have scaled up offerings for holiday periods. Before last year’s Chuseok, a hotel on Jeju Island offered a package inclusive of a free breakfast, beer cocktail and foot massage under the concept of “a gift for your beloved wife.” Packages offered by other hotels include dinners featuring novel dishes cooked by celebrity chefs; a package for solo guests during traditional holidays; a combination of cinema and breakfast; and a free museum pass for those who stay for more than two nights.

During the five-day Lunar New Year holiday in early February this year, major hotels in the country offered attractive programs, such as a combination of a European-style spa and jazz jam session, and a stay at a hotel in a foreign country in their hotel chain network.

Through such efforts, a famous hotel in downtown Seoul increased its percentage of local guests more than threefold during traditional holidays alone. Occupancy by local residents had averaged 20 percent annually.

A hotel executive said, “Most guests were those who wanted to have a good rest and relax at a nearby hotel that has handy facilities, as well as those who didn’t go to their ancestral hometowns during holidays.”

The potential risk to hocance is that it becomes too popular and the travel industry does not restrain itself. The number of complaints filed against hotels, travel agencies and airlines reached about 1,700 during the summer vacation seasons from 2015 to 2017, according to the Fair Trade Commission and the Korea Consumer Agency.

Hotels in particular overbooked rooms in order to maximize profits during the high season and the battalions of guests strained the capacity of facilities such as swimming pools and elevators, making them uncomfortable and inconvenient. Instead of a memorable vacation, some guests ended up feeling they wasted their time and money. The result was a rise in complaints on travel websites and social media.

Home Makeover
A variation of homecance is a “staycation” (“stay” and “vacation”), or “holistay”(“holiday” and “stay”). It involves turning part of one’s home into a vacation site. Mobile operator SK Telecom reported that the most-searched keywords related to summer vacation included “homecance” and “veterpark” (“veranda” and “water park,” which means a veranda in which a mini plastic pool is set up), based on an analysis of a total of 1,317,420 data points collected from news reports, blogs, online bulletin boards and social networking sites in July last year when temperatures spiked above 33ºC. To accommodate staycation home transformations, manufacturers and retailers supply equipment to help pass time away from crowded resorts and sweltering heat.

“Over the 15 days from July 16 to 30 when the vacation season began last year, sales of mini laser beam projectors and Bluetooth speakers grew by 40 and 30 percent, respectively,” a spokesman for Lotte Himart, a home electronics outlet, said. He suggested that those items seemed to be in high demand because they could turn a wall into a screen and produce the sound quality of a movie theater.

Finally, ready-to-eat camping meals sold on home shopping channels can replace cooking, completing the sense of truly escaping daily routines and enjoying a vacation away from home.

Kim Dong-hwan Reporter, The Segye Times
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