169. Introducing the Isocation: How to make the best of COVID-19

Isolation. Vacation. Combined.

Imagine a luxurious two week hotel experience. A nice bed that someone else makes. The option to let the bathtub soak up your worries. Meals brought to your door. High speed internet, should you need it. There might even be a nice view.

There’s just one condition.

You don’t leave the hotel room.

Welcome to your first “isocation”.

Source: Elina Sazonova, pexels.com

But first, let’s zoom out for a moment

As the coronavirus COVID-19 spreads across the globe, more and more people are considering how to deal with the fact that they may need to isolate themselves.

At the time of this writing, Italy is on complete lockdown. Huge events are being cancelled left and right. Big companies are asking employees to work from home. Stock prices in the hotel and airline industries have already taken a major beating.

Marriott and its almost 6,000 hotels is down from 146 USD pr share to 106. Norwegian — one of the world’s biggest low-cost airlines — has seen its stock plummet almost 75% over the last month. One of the big cruise ship players, Carnival Corp, has seen its market value reduced to half of what it was a month ago.

And it’s not over yet.

Source: Bloomberg.com

Not only are we afraid to go on trips we’ve already purchased. We’re afraid to commit ourselves to new ones, and we see government after government standing by in what seems like idleness while the pandemic spreads. The economic impact of the coronavirus is unmistakable. Both my facebook feed and my Linkedin wall are filled with ads for cheap flights and cheap hotels.

And while I’m tempted by some of the prices, I’m also worried about two things:

  1. There’s no guarantee that the companies offering these sweet deals will be alive when I come to collect. (Yes, Norwegian, I’m looking at you!)
  2. The situation might be even worse in a few months, with travel even more restricted than it is now.

In boardrooms across the world, management teams are looking at the situation with dread, and I fear that few places are more sombre than the offices of C-level executives in the hotel and airline businesses these days.

But in every crisis there is opportunity.

Source: marketoonist.com

Necessity is the mother of innovation

According to Wikipedia, the idea of the staycation first saw the light in 2003 article by Terry Massey in The Sun News. But it would take a few more years before the concept got popularised — and most of all, it would take a global crisis.

Staycations achieved popularity in the U.S. during the financial crisis of 2007–2010.[3][4] Staycations also became a popular phenomenon in the UK in 2009 as a weak pound made overseas holidays significantly more expensive.

— Wikipedia article, “Staycation”

Many laughed at the idea and when I first heard it, I remember that it was a term that was spoken of with a certain scorn. Who would take a vacation at home? Quite a few people, it turns out.

The concept of the isocation builds on the same basic premise; human beings are eminent at making necessity work in our favour. Newly minted parents often end up binging TV series online (there’s only so much you can do when you’re stuck in a home with an infant and limited mobility) Long-term hospital patients, who aren’t allowed to look at screens tend to catch up on their reading.

So am I suggesting that everyone who is quarantined and has the means to do so checks into a hotel? Is it really that simple?

Well, not exactly…

Source: youtube.com

The secret sauce: Experience Design

Of course it is perfectly possible to find a nice hotel and just book a room for two weeks, taking all meals in the room and enjoying the amenities there. But what I am suggesting goes a bit further than that. Because here I am talking not just to the potential guests at hotels, but to the hotel operators as well.

What makes a 14 day stay in one room (or if you’re extravagant, a suite) more tolerable? Good food? Definitely. Warm water? A given. Lovely interior decorating? Perhaps. Clean sheets and a fluffy pillow? Sure. And let’s not forget about a proper internet connection and possibly a big flatscreen TV as well. These things are all wonderful, but they’re to be expected.

The real secret sauce is to have the stay be part of a designed real-time immersive experience that you can opt into when you want, and opt out from when you prefer your peace and quiet.

Imagine checking into your isocation and arriving at your room to find a phone number on a table, along with a set of instructions.

“When you are ready for your first mission, call this number. Good luck.”

As simple as that.

And as any competent alternate reality game designer can tell you, the sky is the limit after that. From the moment the guest answers the call to adventure (whether it be in the form of a phone number to call, an app to download or a website to visit), it’s all about delivering world class immersive content to the guest.

Source: forbes.com

Ok, what happens next?

Maybe the guest is invited into a story universe of secret societies, occult mysteries and hidden agendas, and the next two weeks become a journey deeper into history, philosophy and mysticism, cleverly managed by unseen game masters and interactive story designers.

Or perhaps the story world reveals that the guest is stuck in a high-end prison and only by working with other guests (in other rooms) can she hope to learn more about why she is there — and how she can get out.

Elegantly crafted, with easy mechanisms to opt in or opt out, such an adventure can make the two weeks fly by, leaving the guest with fond memories and maybe even some new friendships.

One way to think of it is like a long-form, slow-paced escape room, but instead of trying to escape, you’re staying right where you are until the end. Another option is to compare it to a writer’s retreat, except that you won’t be writing a story — you’ll be living it.

The first isocation experiences are already being planned as I write this. I know, because I’m part of that effort. :-)

Source: Wikipedia

Where there is danger, there is also opportunity

Now, you may wonder, who might be interested in offering this as something for guests? If you own a hotel chain in a tourist area, and you have guests that are stuck and quarantined, why not do your very best to make their stay as memorable as possible? If you have a chain of hotels located near big cities, why not introduce isocation packages in cooperation with talented experience designers?

Just so we’re clear; I’m not naive enough to say that this will solve all of your problems. The idea of the isocation is not a universal cure to the ills of the world. But as someone, who has spent the last 25 years creating extraordinary events and staging memorable experiences, I found this John F. Kennedy quote a fitting ending to the text:

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

If we’re going to have to isolate ourselves, we might as well make something of it!

Claus Raasted spent fifteen years of his life building the world’s largest live action role play company, and then a year struggling to save it from collapse. He failed, and is now using his hard-earned knowledge to stand out in other spheres; most noticeably those of leadership training, experience design and culture design. He serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is the Chief Marketing Officer of The World of Hans Christian Andersen, a Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Company and does high-level experience design consulting for clients around the world.


Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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