After spending nearly a year cooped up by the pandemic, many of us have thought about getting away from home.
But what do you do if vacations that require boarding a plane, checking into a hotel or navigating crowded spaces scare you? An entire outdoor hospitality industry is blossoming to meet this need.
Getaway has opened its first Chicago-area outpost, offering those in the city a chance to escape safely into nature.
Bordered by woods and a small lake, Getaway Barber Creek is in Grand Junction, Michigan, just over two hours from Chicago and will have 41 socially distant cabins available beginning in April.
Other enterprises offering an isolated experience in Illinois include Glamping Hub, a global luxury outdoor accommodations company, and Hawk Valley Retreat & Cottages in Galena.
Jon Staff, the founder and CEO of Getaway, said a lot of guests in the past year have wanted to get out of their houses and apartments to go somewhere safe without a lobby, restaurant, other people, or the pressures of work and staring at a Zoom screen.
In 2020, the company experienced nearly 100% occupancy in its existing locations and a 150% increase in bookings from 2019.
“Nature is really good for reducing our stress and anxiety, which I think we need now more than ever,” Staff said.
To adhere to COVID-19 safety measures, Staff said guests have no in-person interaction with on-site workers, checking in by email and text for a cabin number and keycode. All cabins are deep cleaned between visitors, and there is 50 to 150 feet between cabins.
Dr. John Schneider, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiologyat the University of Chicago, said going to an outdoor getaway such as individualized cabins is one of the best travel options during the pandemic.
“It’s really important that if people go on vacation, it’s got to be with the same social distancing unit that they’ve been part of, usually [their] household,” Schneider said.
Since COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air and not surfaces, Schneider said it is highly unlikely guests would contract the virus from the cabin, especially after it’s been cleaned.
Glamping Hub’s booking requests surged 250% in 2020 for its tiny homes, treehouses, yurts and private islands, spokesperson Olivia Grafton said.
“The industry will continue to grow in 2021 as more people are embracing glamping as an alternative local way to travel,” Grafton said. “2020 was a year of disruption, uncertainty and unpredictability, but glamping gave people a chance to escape to nature, enjoy the present and appreciate the small things in life.”
Prices for accommodations start at $129 but increase with the size of the cabin, week day and season.
John Walch, innkeeper at Hawk Valley Retreat & Cottages, said since reopening in June 2020, the retreated has welcomed a steady stream of customers and has not experienced any cases of COVID-19.
Walch said the retreat follows the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s safety rules and guidelines, asking guests to wear masks and social distance in public spaces, closing its dining halls, offering to deliver breakfast, and practicing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting methods.
Walch said the bed-and-breakfast experience sets Hawk Valley apart. “It depends what you’re looking for on your vacation,” he said. “We offer a very specific opportunity for people to have the cottage experience but also get pampered.”
Staff said Getaway is focused on giving guests the ability to disconnect and self reflect, without Wi-Fi or other distractions.
“We’re really about when you’re sitting in your cubicle or sitting in front of Zoom all day, you [can] pull the ripcord and two hours later, you’re having s’mores in front of a campfire,” Staff said. “It’s more about that quick escape from your day-to-day grind than it is about going to a particular destination.”