Stateside, hotels are also trying to cash in on the Mayan hype. For superstitious starting price of $666, The Keating in San Diego is selling the "End of the World" package complete with a last supper and fitness classes aimed at outrunning zombies. Christos Brooks, the Keating's standards and operations director, drew the idea for the promotion from Britney Spears's song "Till the World Ends."
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"That was pretty much my anthem last year, and this year we were talking about promotion ideas for the end of the world," Brooks said. "It's always a slow time of the year for San Diego, and that's where it came about."
The package has sold well so far with 15 rooms booked, making it one of the year's most popular, Brooks said.
"The one thing that people really haven't been into is going to the gym the next day," he added. "No one's really given a reason for it, but the only thing that people have asked about is if the gym is required."
The Keating is also offering a post-doomsday special for guests.
"If you pre-pay for your room after the 21st, you get a 40 percent discount so it's kind of a gamble," he said. "You can pay for your room and if the world doesn't end, you get a great bargain. But if it does, you lose your money. Based on the booking we have seen so far the world's going to continue to go on."
For $12,021, The Curtis Hotel offered a "Party Like There's No-To-Maya" special that included rental of an entire floor of the Denver hotel along with Doomsday supplies including anti-radiation tablets, freeze-dried food and gas masks. A tattoo artist was also included if guests wanted to mark the end of the world with some fresh ink.
Kate Thompson, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, said the package did not end up selling, but it did generate curiosity, which is often one of the main goals for an whimsical promotion like the Curtis'.
"It's a great coup to us to be able to get our name out there, and the more press we have the better it is and the more exposure we get, the better it is for us," Thompson said. "The exposure's worth just as much as actually selling that package."
The buzz surrounding the Mayan doomsday predictions allows marketers an opportunity to "piggyback" their offers on the highly publicized event, said Chekitan Dev, an associate professor of strategic marketing and brand management at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration.
"With the media creating a lot of hype, a lot of the market preparation is already done for product and service marketers so it's then a matter of capitalizing on this media opportunity," Dev said.
Mayan-related promotions can be a positive move for brands, even luxury ones, if the offers are well thought out, offer consumers something special and target a market that is likely to respond, Dev said.
"Luxury hotels, not wanting to go for the macabre, can use this as a way to promote cultural tourism, a fast growing segment with a higher spend than average, by showcasing Mayan culture by having special attractions, speakers, events around this event," he added.
Dev cautions companies against using what he calls "soft-sell" offers, such as merely spa packages that give "the impression that they have not put a lot of thought into this."
It makes sense that marketers would use any opportunity they can to drum up business, but what makes consumer prone to bite at these playful promotions?
Jonah Berger, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has studied why certain products get more word-of-mouth exposure than others and why online content goes viral as some Doomsday-related coverage has.
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"We've done research that shows around Halloween, when you ask people to name products, they are more likely to name orange products around that time of year," Berger said.