Industry experts join together to help chart path forward for mountain travel industry | VailDaily.com
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Industry experts join together to help chart path forward for mountain travel industry

Group has numerous experts with decades of experience in the mountain travel industry

Members of the new Insights Collective have decades of experience in the mountain resort business. The group is working to help the travel industry move forward during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Special to the Daily
By the numbers 12.7%: Decline in high-income consumer spending from January to June. 16.7%: Increase in reservations from people within a 600-mile drive of mountain and beach resorts. 16: Day decline from average in seasonal cancellation times. 74%: Predicted decline in summer air travel (AAA). Source: Inntopia

The tourism business, like much of the rest of the world’s economy, is trying to creep toward ideas of what the next several months will look like.

A group of industry experts calling itself the Insights Collective has come together to try to crunch numbers and lean on their experience with the mission of finding a way forward through the pandemic fog.

A recent webinar with the nine-person collective presenting, and a number of industry people watching, started with some sobering numbers.

Consumer spending is down, particularly in the high-income demographic. Consumer confidence has rebounded, though, from the lows set in March and April, but still lags. Occupancy is starting to rebound from the depths of March and April, and air travel is also starting to see a bit of a resurgence.

Booking windows narrow

People are starting to re-book rooms and are booking much closer to their travel dates. Cancellations are coming in closer to expected arrival dates.

“There’s a lot of angst around short-term travel,” Inntopia Senior Vice President Tom Foley said.

In addition, average daily rates for November are lower than they were for the same period in 2019.

Travel industry leaders are also dealing with the fact that the pandemic is dragging on longer than they initially expected. Foley said industry analysts in March started talking about “120 days to normal.” That 120-day window hasn’t yet shrunk.

As the travel industry muddles through the pandemic, the analysts talked a bit about what businesses can do in the short term as they prepare for the long term.

Longtime analyst Ralf Garrison said he’s been tracking travel patterns, and it seems that the drive-in market is getting “broader and deeper.”

Barb Taylor-Carpender, owner of Taylored Alliances, said it looks as if drive markets have expanded from their usual 500 miles to 600 miles.

Once guests arrive, the panel had ideas about how to work with those guests, many of whom have safety on their minds.

On the day Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told people to “Wear a damn mask,” Chris Cares, managing director of RRC Associates, said it’s important to convince guests of the value of wearing face coverings.

Cares acknowledged there’s been a “communications problem” regarding masks.

Noting that health officials were slow to recommend mask-wearing, Cares said “It’s up to us to try to change the thinking.”

Destination marketing organizations can help bolster what seems to be increasing acceptance of mask wearing, Cares said.

What can businesses do?

Brian London, president and CEO of London Tourism Publications, said masks should be in a business’ budget just like office supplies. Masks with a business logo could be an amenity provided to guests, he said.

In addition to mask wearing indoors, health officials say physical distancing is also an important part of controlling the spread of the coronavirus. That’s easy in the summer, and a little trickier in the winter.

Susan Rubin-Stewart, a travel industry and call center strategist with SRS Consulting, said mountain resorts in particular could offer more Nordic skiing terrain, and more trailhead and campsite access in the summer months.

Anything to make the guest experience “touchless” is also a good idea, Rubin-Stewart said.

Jesse True, president of True Mountain Consulting, advised businesses to be transparent and show their safety protocols.

“Don’t hide cleanliness,” True said. “You can’t overcommunicate safety.” That applies to both guests and employees.

London noted that cleanliness standards is the top guest complaint right now.

All these measures are ways successful businesses will continue to succeed in the future.

Garrison noted that the oft-used Charles Darwin adage of “survival of the fittest” is actually a misquote. Darwin was actually talking about the ability to adapt, Garrison noted.

Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer listened to the webinar. Romer said the work of the Insights Collective is potentially valuable.

“It’s a really powerhouse group,” Romer said. “They’re not just collecting data. They have the ability to provide color and … commentary about what the data tells us.”

Romer noted that no individual can process all the data the industry group is now sifting through.

But, he added, it’s virtually impossible to get a handle on what’s happening right now.

“There’s still no consensus of what this is going to mean for ski resorts and vacation destinations,” Romer said, adding that for now, “we’re going to have to learn to live with (the virus).”

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


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