Industry experts coming together to chart a course toward the ‘next normal’ | VailDaily.com
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Industry experts coming together to chart a course toward the ‘next normal’

Volunteer group of industry veterans aims to combine data, insights to try to aid resort communities as economy recovers

What will the mountain resort industry look like in the post-COVID environment? That's what a new group called the Insights Collective is trying to determine.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |
By the numbers
  • 98%: April decline in outbound traffic at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
  • 84%: May decline in traffic at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
  • 80%: Decline in March westbound traffic at the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels after the March 15 shutdown of ski areas.
  • 25%: Decline in tunnel traffic over Memorial Day weekend.

Where we are now isn’t the “new normal.” But after months of pandemic, social unrest and a national election, what will the “next normal” look like?

That’s what Ralf Garrison and a group of industry experts are trying to figure out.

Garrison spent decades in the resort research business as the founder of DestiMetrics. He’s kept a low profile since selling that business a few years ago, but is now back in the research and analytics game. Garrison has put together a volunteer group of industry experts currently calling itself the “Insights Collective.” The idea, Garrison said, is to try to get some kind of handle on what the “next normal” might look like, and how resorts and communities might successfully negotiate that new landscape.

“If we compare notes, we’re smarter together,” Garrison said of the new, volunteer group.

A new reality

Any attempt to understand that new landscape is essentially starting from square one, with little to no current data.

Garrison said the new group is gathering what facts it can, and combining those facts with anecdotal evidence. Mixing the two could result in new information to navigate a new reality.

One part of that process is evaluating the COVID-19 virus’s effect on economies and communities. As communities and resorts begin to reopen, the group intends to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Some areas will do a better job than others. Some areas may see a resurgence of the virus. That’s going to affect consumer confidence.

Conversely, resorts would prefer to invite people from lower-risk areas. How does that fit into marketing plans?

Looking into the complexities of supply, demand attraction and more will eventually result in a kind of best practices guidebook. That guidebook is going to evolve as time passes.

The group has set a relatively arbitrary date of Sept. 30 for its current work. The virus, economy and social factors will dictate how quickly the current dust in the atmosphere actually settles, but Sept. 30 seemed like a good guidepost, Garrison said.

Using both insights and data — incuding advance bookings for the next ski season and how schools decide to reopen — may give a more clear picture of the winter season to come.

Garrison said the group in a couple of weeks will be asked to submit concrete questions for debate. Those questions will be hashed out in a public forum.

For now, though, the new group, like much else in the world right now, isn’t on a set path.

“I’m still trying to figure out where we’re going with this gaggle of folks,” Garrison said. That’s going to be tough, though, because “there’s not going to be one day where the goalposts don’t move a little,” he added.

Mountain tourism experts

Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer said the new group brings together a group of people “who have been living and breathing mountain tourism for many years and across many sectors.”

Romer said the group’s broad view can help individual communities learn from, and perhaps collaborate with, each other. But collaboration is easier said than done, he added.

“You have to actively listen, develop additional plans and put egos aside,” Romer said. “That’s hard for people and communities to do in general.”

But, Romer added, he knows, likes and has worked with most of the people in the new group.

“Seeing them all come together like this… this is unique point in time,” Romer said. “You didn’t see this during the (2008) recession, or after (Sept. 11, 2001).”

Garrison also holds high hopes for the group.

“This is a perfect opportunity to move the needle in our long-term best interests,” he said.

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


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