• Travel and Fanfare

Brooklyn Co. Bets Your Next Trip Will Be Disconnected

By RYAN DEFFENBAUGH

While rooms in city hotels sat nearly two-thirds empty for much of the summer, the Brooklyn hospitality company Getaway had a problem: It was running out of vacation rentals.


The company builds, books and manages small cabins in the woods throughout the country, each no more than two hours from a major city. Driven by urbanites seeking a weekend escape, bookings for those cabins climbed 150% year over year in 2020, and the firm spent most of the year at full capacity.


"In the beginning of the pandemic, we thought, 'Uh-oh, our business is tiny spaces where you don't do anything,'" said Jon Staff, the company's founder and CEO. "Then we all became familiar with Zoom fatigue and figured out we still had something to offer, without Wi-Fi and with cellphone lockboxes."


This week Getaway closed a $42 million private-equity investment, which it will use to fund more locations, including a third in the Catskills.


The company's roughly 200-square-foot cabins are modernized but not exactly glamping—there are no TVs, and hot showers should be limited to five minutes.


But check-in is contact-less and cabins come with a stocked kitchen—meaning visitors can stay isolated in an era that demands it.


"The entire experience is about being alone or with your family, or pod, as I guess you'd call it," Staff said.


Each of the company's properties hosts between 30 and 50 cabins, spaced out to the point visitors are unlikely to bump into one another. The Catskills locations with a queen-size bed were listed for $179 on weeknights and for $279 on weekends.


The startup's growth represents a shift in the travel industry, which is among the sectors most damaged by Covid-19. People are avoiding air travel, and vacation rentals are outperforming hotels.


Rentals in secluded destinations are "performing especially well as people escape cities and find places to spend time with their family," a September 2020 report from Skift and McKinsey found. "Rentals in urban destinations, however, are less well situated to cater to these shifting demands, so they have felt much of the same hardship as hotels." New York City is traditionally the second-largest market for Airbnb, behind London. But travelers in August booked more locations in the Hudson Valley and Catskills through the site than within the five boroughs. The top "wish-listed" New York Airbnb posting in 2020 was not a Tribeca loft but a treehouse-style cabin overlooking a lake near the town of Woodstock.


The trend toward quiet locales could change as more people get vaccinated and become more willing to travel greater distances—but the timeline for that is unclear.


"I'm hopeful that people will start feeling more comfortable and safe venturing out for a trip to a new city," Staff said. "But if I were betting, I'd say there is going to be a lot of time spent outdoors, much like last summer."


Getaway has raised $82 million from a list of investors that includes Starwood Capital and private-equity firm Certares. Getaway has 479 cabins across 13 outposts.


Staff said there is room, long term, for both big-city getaways and retreats into nature. The Brooklyn resident is planning to check in soon at the TWA Hotel at Kennedy Airport.


But while much of travel is focused on seeing and doing, Staff said he thinks people increasingly are buying into the company's Seinfeld-style vacation pitch.


"You might really do nothing," he said. "And that's a good thing."

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