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Egerton House’s Kylie Minogue Package

Robert Risko Kylie Minogue

Photo: Robert Risko

Then again, what normal, red-blooded American female could have resisted the "Girls with Guns Getaway" package at the Teton Ridge Ranch in Idaho?Women, either singly or in groups of "high-caliber girlfriends," were invited to come blow their troubles away on the ranch’s clay-pigeon range (shotgun lessons included if necessary) before repairing each evening to the ranch’s Great Room for a sumptuous three-course meal and, presumably, a long, weepy, mutually supportive conversation about how great men are and how much of a shame it is they couldn’t come.

So far, so delightful. But there is more than mere whimsy propelling the rise and rise of these offbeat packages.

There is the mounting threat of "commoditization," for one thing. It may not be a vivid or melodious term; Karl Marx himself would probably have to bite back a yawn, but it’s commoditization that’s apparently keeping modern hoteliers up at night when it isn’t haunting their dreams. Thanks to the recent lurch forward in information technology, consumers have exponentially more hotel choices at their fingertips, and a precise picture of what each and every one of them charges for a room, with the result that it’s more difficult than ever for a hotel to stand out, except by being a "better deal." The solution, apparently (according to various grim, jargony industry newsletters this correspondent has dutifully waded through), is the adoption of a "de-commoditization strategy." In addition to offering extra perks and services, hotels are actively—though subliminally—trying to challenge the idea that what they provide is just another product. Hence all the new playfulness and creativity.

The wacky package can be a powerful weapon in the battle for customers. It’s no coincidence that many of the packages mentioned in this article won’t be available by the time you read these words. The more often a package deal quietly expires, the more often a new one can be born to deafening fanfare. In a word, package deals are news: a new package deal costs a hotel essentially nothing—a few dozen copies of The Orchid Thief, say, or a gross of cryptic little boxes from a failing ceramicist—and yet justifies the dissemination of a press release. If the package is quirky enough, the press release punchy enough, this can really pay off. The "Britney Breakdown" package, for instance, became the subject of its very own item in USA Today, which is how I found out about it, and hey, now you’ve found out about it. All for the cost to Personality Hotels of a few lace thongs and some bottled water they probably had lying around anyway.

Which is not to suggest that package deals are scams. Far from it. Nobody signs up for the "Britney Breakdown" package because they're thirsty and they could use some new underwear. What’s for sale, instead, is an idea.

And I, for one, am grateful. I'm not saying "Kylie—The Exhibition" was entirely without merit; nothing’s entirely without merit. However, as I stood there at the museum, studying the clothing on a five-foot-tall mannequin, knowing that soon I would shuffle to one side and study the clothing on another mannequin, it was a source of some comfort to know the experience was part of a package of experiences. We gauge our vacations by the strength of the memories they leave us with. The Egerton was memorably comfortable; the exhibition of Kylie Minogue’s clothing was memorably dire; but on its own, neither experience would imprint on me anything near the vividness and longevity with which I would retain the memory of the package as a whole. How many people can say they spent a Kylie Minogue–themed weekend in London?Very, very few. How many can go further and say that as a result of that weekend, they have a small ceramic box that contains, in a transcendently subtle fashion, the very essence of Minogue?

None, as it turns out.

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