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How will businesses in the Vail Valley recover from COVID-19?

Expect more takeout and curb service, as well as accelerated use of tech we were already using

Beaver Liquors in Avon hasn't had a customer in the store in weeks. The business for now has moved to curbside service, delivery and a walk-up window.
Justin Q. McCarty

When it comes to the COVID-19 virus, it’s often hard to tell what the next two days will bring, much less the next two years. But business practices and travel habits are going to change. The question is, how?

Some of the predictions are relatively easy.

Cameron Douglas is the co-owner of Vail’s Montauk Seafood Grill and El Segundo restaurant. Douglas said he believes the restaurant business will see a lot more takeout meals, even at fine dining restaurants.

“At Montauk, takeout was always 1 to 2% of sales (before COVID-19),” Douglas said. “I expect it to be perhaps 30%” going forward.

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That could be a matter of convenience or perceived safety. Guests may want to just settle down in their hotel rooms or condos instead of going out.

“Low contact” service is going to be important going forward. Larry Leith owns the two Yeti’s Grind coffee shops in the valley. He also owns roughly 50 Tokyo Joe’s restaurants in Colorado and other states.

Leith said he anticipates seeing a good bit of that kind of service in the immediate future.

People want to hang out

But, he added, he expects people will want to sit down with friends over coffee or a meal as the COVID-19 threat eases.

But part of the new emphasis may be mandated in order to maintain social distancing between tables or barstools.

Beaver Liquors in Avon hasn’t seen a customer inside the store in weeks. Owner David Courtney said the store is doing its business these days with curbside pickup, delivery and service at a walk-up window. People can order online or by phone and that order will be ready when the customer arrives.

“People are going to get used to doing it that way,” Courtney said.

Beyond individual businesses, there are some larger trends developing.

Tom Foley is the senior vice president of business operations for Inntopia, a firm that provides market tracking and research in the resort lodging business.

Foley said in the near term, people are booking trips farther in advance than they generally do in the summer. In fact, he said, people are booking “dramatically” farther ahead of their anticipated travel dates.

‘Defensive’ planning

“Consumers are being defensive in their plans,” Foley said, adding that travelers are also paying closer attention to businesses’ cancellation policies.

Foley said many consumer decisions are made with a metric similar to a light switch: yes or no. Now, he said, decisions, particularly about reopening areas, are being made by degrees, and each degree has several elements.

For instance, rather than just reopening, areas coming back have options. Are restaurants open to locals only? Do hotels remain closed? Is one town or county coordinating with other towns or counties in a region?

Most important, do service providers have the resources to fulfill demand?

Still, Americans love to travel, to the point that travel is viewed almost like a “birthright,” Foley said.

That’s good news for resorts, from the mountains to the beaches. Those destinations tend to have passionate visitors, Foley said.

“They aren’t people who ski, but skiers,” he said. “I think they’ll find a way to continue with those passions.”

Unknown elements

But COVID-19 has thrown an unknown element into previously fairly straightforward projections.

Until there’s a vaccine or widely accepted and effective treatment for COVID-19, “snow won’t overcome the fear of health problems,” Foley said.

Vaccines and treatments will be essential before travelers show a real comfort level coming back to even familiar destination, he added.

Harry Frampton has spent decades in the real estate and hospitality businesses. Frampton said it’s probably still too soon to see solid trends emerging.

“There are all kinds of ways we can come out of this,” Frampton said. But, he added, he’s confident that treatments and vaccines will be available at some point in the not-too-distant future.

For now, Frampton said he anticipates the present and immediate future will see an acceleration of trends that were already in place. That’s especially true of remote-meeting technology.

Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate currently has offices in Summit County, the Roaring Fork Valley and the Vail Valley. That firm had already started to use remote meetings.

That technology won’t eliminate in-person meetings, Frampton said, adding that people want to do business and socialize in person. But instead of 12 seats in a conference room, there might be six for a while.

And, he added, “People will still want to come to Vail.”

It isn’t just business

It isn’t just business that had to quickly adapt to distancing and low-touch practices.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said that the department has been working to avoid contact as much as possible. That means bringing fewer people to jail, if possible.

For instance, a dog at large citation carries a $100 fine. But someone who doesn’t pay that fine has to be arrested and taken to jail if caught.

To avoid bringing people into that facility and possibly creating a danger to officers or inmates, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is now working to simply cite low-level offenders and release them on bond.

In some cases, quick hearings are held in the department’s sally port in Eagle.

In addition, “We’ve had to rethink about what we can accomplish from home” with the department’s administrative staff.

But, van Beek said, he and others are looking forward to getting out and interacting in person with the community. Working via phones and computers goes against everything he and other officers have learned over the years.

Some kind of normal will emerge. But when it happens and what it looks like are still unknown.

But, Frampton said, he’s an optimist.

“I believe we’ll figure all this out, and we’ll be better for it,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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