Wealthy execs flock to five-star resorts to soothe lockdown fatigue

Some prefer to work remotely from far-flung locations while waiting for a vaccine roll-out

Gladden Private Island, which houses a luxury villa, is available for rent, in Belize. The Central American country reopened its borders last Oct 1 and requires that travellers have a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival. PHOTO: HOMEAWAY
Gladden Private Island, which houses a luxury villa, is available for rent, in Belize. The Central American country reopened its borders last Oct 1 and requires that travellers have a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival. PHOTO: HOMEAWAY

NEW YORK • Unlike the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, which sent people on road trips and to second homes, the second wave has triggered a desire for more permanent, warmer, far-flung escapes.

In Britain and elsewhere across Europe, the wealthy have flown to such warmer climates as Dubai, the Maldives and Spain to escape winter lockdown, says Mr Justin Huxter, founder of British-based Cartology Travel.

Americans have more options when seeking tropical bunkers: Hawaii has eased its travel restrictions, and borders are open in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and many parts of the Caribbean.

Embark Beyond founder Jack Ezon says: "People with lockdown fatigue have realised they can continue life in places with a lot less stress and a lot more room to breathe."

He is seeing East Coast clients flock to luxury hotels and resorts in Florida, South Carolina, and Turks and Caicos Islands, while West Coast clients flee to Arizona, and Puerto Vallarta and Cabo in Mexico - anywhere with equally good weather and Wi-Fi.

The average cost, he says, is US$70,000 (S$92,600) a month, with most clients booking two-to four-month stays.

Extended-stay discounts, the reopening of certain international borders, and better awareness on the precautions to take when travelling have further enabled a second-wave exodus.

While socially isolating in a five-star resort may have been a novelty at the beginning of the pandemic, it is now a need for a certain class of consumer; in Thailand, it is a business plan.

"By October, people started to realise they'd be facing another winter in San Francisco with no restaurants, no entertainment, no offices - really nowhere to go. They wanted out," says Mr Leigh Rowan, founder of Bay Area-based Savanti Travel, whose clients are buying one-way tickets and working remotely from beachfront villas or amenity-laden hotels.

This time, he says, they are not coming back until there is promise of a vaccine appointment.


Ms Melanie Woods, a 39-year-old graphic designer, left San Francisco well before there was word of a winter lockdown. Since last Oct 1 - the day Belize reopened its borders - she has been working out of director Francis Ford Coppola's rustic-luxe Turtle Inn resort, where her desk is by a window with a sea breeze.

"I swim for exercise between calls. On weekends, I feel like I'm on vacation. I can snorkel, zip line, swim," she says.

Belize requires travellers to have a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival, which gave Ms Woods peace of mind. The 27-room luxury beachfront resort in Placencia is also almost entirely open-air, making it easy to eat and socialise in distanced, outdoor settings.

Rooms start at US$329 a night, but those on extended stays reap 20 per cent discounts on both accommodations and food; Ms Woods is renting out her apartment back home to offset the expense. "I probably won't return until summer, or when I can get a vaccine," she says.


Jetting off to a sandy paradise is not just a lifestyle play. Travel adviser Mr Rowan says many of his clients can actually do their jobs better in a different setting.

"Many creatives, start-ups, and techies are realising they can meet interesting investors in places like Oaxaca or San Miguel de Allende."

Ms Cheyenne Quinn, 39, a partner in a branding and consulting company in Los Angeles, is among that set. "When LA went into lockdown again, it was way more intense," she says. "I was consumed with the idea of escaping."

Last October, she flew to Tulum in Mexico and has been renting homes around the country for as little as US$20 a night.

"This trip has benefited me financially, socially and emotionally."

Before the pandemic, Ms Quinn was working with major clients such as Louis Vuitton and Modelo. That business has disappeared, but she has met artisans and small company owners through her travels, and this has helped her rebuild her company. Several have hired her to consult on social media strategy and marketing, she says.

Mr Shawn Garvey, a 55-year-old chief executive of an energy innovation company in the Bay Area, has also seen productivity gains from his extended vacation in Mexico. He had been dragging himself into his empty office simply to stay productive.

"I was lethargic and tired. My inspiration was declining," he says, adding that most of his days consisted of "rolling out of my bed and working from my laptop in my underwear".

His wife Kimberley owns a court reporting company that she now runs remotely. Their three children have grown up. "For the first time in decades, we didn't have anything preventing us from leaving," Mr Garvey says.

They are staying at the Modern Elder Academy near Todos Santos, on Mexico's Pacific coast. It was named one of Bloomberg Pursuits' Best Places to Travel in 2021. A month-long stay for two, including meals, costs US$7,500, which Mr Garvey estimates is half of the couple's monthly living expenses back home in San Francisco.

"I've done more here in the last four weeks than I did all of last year," says Mr Garvey, noting that he and his wife are essentially still sheltering in place. The access to the great outdoors has reinvigorated his creativity, he says - when whales breech or jump during his Zoom calls, he tells his co-workers they have earned Mother Nature's applause. It has been such a positive experience, he is now building a home in Todos Santos.

"From a professional perspective, I'm not interested in returning until the offices are open again," Mr Garvey says. "Frankly, I think clients and collaborators react very positively to the idea that I am here in Mexico."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2021, with the headline 'Wealthy execs flock to five-star resorts to soothe lockdown fatigue'. Subscribe