Savvy hotel guests know they can often get a free tube of toothpaste or razor by asking the front desk, but a day in a Porsche 911 convertible?
The latest over-the-top hotel amenity is complimentary use of a car. A number of hotels across the country are offering guests chauffeured or loaner vehicles to take for a spin during their stays.
-Loews Hotels and Resorts offers the Fiat 500L, the Fiat 500 Cabrio, the Fiat Abarth Cabrio and the all-electric Fiat 500e at five properties.
-Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., has partnered with Porsche of San Diego to lets guests participate in a test drive program. Guests can take out any of the three vehicles — a 911 convertible, Panamera Hybrid, and a Cayenne GTS — for as long as they want as long as they return it on the same day.
-Hotel Jerome in Aspen has two Mercedes SUVs for guests to borrow during their stay on a first-come, first-serve basis for four hours at a time. In addition, guests who own a Mercedes-Benz get a $100 resort credit, room upgrade and a special welcome amenity.
-Peninsula Hotels recently collaborated with BMW to create a custom-made MINI Cooper S Clubman, now available in all of its U.S. hotels, including The Peninsula Beverly Hills. Guests get complimentary chauffeured service in the car.
-The Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, Calif., has a Room and Vroom package that includes the use of a 1965 Classic Mustang for four hours.
Chekitan Dev, marketing professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and author of Hospitality Branding, says it benefits both the hotels and car manufacturers to team up to promote the vehicles.
“Hotels tie up with car brands to position their own brand in the marketplace by borrowing brand equity from the car partner,” he says. “The car company gets their brand in front of thousands of hotel customers who are prime prospects for buying a car.”
Alex Tonarelli, managing director at the Loews Miami Beach, says the program has been so popular that the hotel has added two cars to its fleet. The Fiats can either be driven by a chauffeur or by a guest.
“We’re in a competitive market and every hotel out there is always trying to find new and creative services and amenities to offer guests,” he says.
He says the loaner cars are especially appealing to leisure travelers who want to explore the beach. Business travelers who don’t want the hassle of going to a rental car agency also like having the option of borrowing a car, he says.
All a guest needs is a driver’s license and auto insurance to take a car.
Marlen Connelly drives an Infiniti JX 35 back home outside of Boston. She had never before driven a Fiat until she stayed at the Loews Miami Beach a few months ago.
She took one of the convertibles out for a spin around the beach.
“It’s a fun little car,” she says. “We just used it for fun and to enjoy the sun. You’re able to try something new that you haven’t. So I enjoyed it. I would never have tried it.”
Casey Hurbis, head of Fiat brand communications, says Loews was the perfect partner because both companies have similar customers.
“We’re like-minded brands,” he says, with both in a growth phase.
Hurbis says that in the six months that the two have collaborated, Fiat has sold cars to customers who tried it while staying at the hotel, but he declined to say how many.
“We’re still in a mode of awareness-building and looking at unique ways in this multimedia world to expose our brand in non-traditional venues,” he says.
Porsche, too, is hoping to attract new customers with its hotel partnership. At Rancho Valencia, a Porsche-certified concierge is onsite to help with the purchase and customization of a vehicle.
Annie Lawless, a San Diego resident, didn’t buy a car, but she did spend a full day driving one around Encinitas while staying at the resort.
A Land Rover owner, she came away impressed by the Porsche Cayenne.
“The drive was extremely smooth and the car was easy to maneuver,” she says. “I loved the interior setup and features. It felt very spacious and luxurious without being too complicated or intimidating.”