The Graduate Hotel in Athens, Georgia, is pictured on February 8, 2018. (Photo/Chamberlain Smith, chamberlainlockett.com)

This holiday season, two University of Georgia students and the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau have worked to bring restoration for Athens’ beloved travel destinations. They have compiled multiple hotel packages and a marketing campaign so Athenians can gift their loved ones a trip to Athens at a discounted rate.

Abigail Snyder and Thomas McMullen, two Terry College of Business students, began this initiative during UGA’s 2020 Summer Design Sprint virtual pitch competition and termed the holiday program “GiftAStay.” They noticed a need for people to escape the stress from COVID-19 and abrupt changes in daily life and created an incentive to get people out of the house and in Athens.

“I felt this burden for the hospitality industry because it was hit pretty hard [from the pandemic],” Snyder, a senior marketing major from Athens, said. “It’s a really big part of Athens, so we started that exploration and realized that what hotels needed was a reason for people to travel.”

Snyder and McMullen eventually combined efforts with the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau which helped them create the website for GiftAStay. Katie Williams, director of the Bureau, worked with the students on a landing page for the campaign, where visitors can find hotel gift certificates and coupons for activities in Athens.

The package prices range from $79 to $129 depending on the package type, hotel and length of the stay. The Graduate Athens hotel package, for instance, is $129 and includes a $50 gift certificate to participating Athens restaurants, and it is available for purchase until the end of December.

Other ways to gift a stay in Athens are by simply purchasing a hotel gift card that can be redeemed for a mom who has spent her year unexpectedly homeschooling her kids or for in-laws who need a space to social distance, the GiftAStay website said. The other option is to buy a package, which includes other benefits.

“I think this time, especially in 2020, there’s so many people who could fully enjoy a weekend away or a night away,” Williams said. “We were thrilled as the CVB to partner with [Snyder and McMullen] on this project and launch it as a holiday promotion.”

GiftAStay is currently a holiday promotion, but Snyder, McMullen and the CVB intend on continuing the package offerings into the new year to assist local businesses and hotels. When Snyder originally told her friends about the hotel gift certificates, they had never known they existed, and she wants to make visitors more aware of this opportunity, she said.

Athens CVB is currently targeting Athens residents who are in need of a “staycation” as well as moms or parents in general who have had a very busy year with small children at home and juggling remote learning, Williams said.

All of the hotels included in the packages have enhanced cleaning and safety protocols to ensure guests feel safe and comfortable while staying there, Williams said. They partake in frequent sanitization and other safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while still increasing business, she said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to tour these hotels to see firsthand what they’re doing, and I can tell you that now is probably the safest time to stay in a hotel,” Williams said. “They are clean, they are sanitized, they are safe and they are ready for visitors.”