Lessons to Date: Legacies around the corner

By Ralf Garrison and Susan Rubin-Stewart
Brought to you by the Vail Daily and The Insights Collective
Declines in taxable lodging sales across western U.S. mountain destinations.

The Insights Collective is a pandemic economy think tank, established to provide insights and actionable recommendations to public and private sector decision makers in leisure travel destinations. For more information, visit

With the 2020 election behind us and winter season just around the corner, it’s time to turn our attention toward the future and how it will impact those of us who live and work in mountain resort communities. Using Insights Collective think tank and lodging tax data, we’ll recap evidence to date, then summarize our current thinking about the key factors upon which 2021 will depend. 

COVID-19 pandemic: A new reality? Now significantly worse that originally modelled, cases are at an all-time high — nearly 125,000 new cases per day in the U.S. at press time. And with flu and holiday season upon us, Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx both predict the worst is yet to come and will extend well into 2021 until the forthcoming vaccine reaches a worldwide critical mass. Until then, and certainly for winter 2020-21, pandemic protocol management is the likely new reality for some time to come.

Resulting Economics: COVID vs. the Fed? The COVID-19 pandemic is the economic driver and federal intervention is the offset, but results vary widely and favor many mountain resort communities with more rural, outdoor activities and established drive markets. But among residents and visitors, anecdotal data suggests negative impacts to be greater for the service industry workforce, and less for boomers/retirees whose assets are largely in the market and home ownership, both of which are holding up well. 

Geo-Political Considerations: a post-election shift? The election is finally over, notwithstanding a long tail of legal challenges and early 2024 positioning. But at press time, it is uncertain that a clear mandate will substantially change the disparity and polarization of a deeply divided nation. 

“To a remarkable degree, this traumatic election year (pandemic economics, etc. ) has not really changed the political divide of the political contour in America since 2016,” observed Gerald Seib, political analyst for Wall Street Journal.

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New cases of COVID-19 across western U.S. mountain destinations.

Mountain Tourism 2020-21: Lodging reservation activity is the best indicator of destination tourism, having done better than feared in many mountain towns, but varied widely (see graphic. Our Insights Collective think tank, along with some of our national affiliates, offer some brief insights:

  •  ”While the broader travel industry has been hurt more than many market segments, the hardest hit are international; meetings and conferences; larger leisure groups, sporting, and special events.  None of these are likely to rebound soon or contribute much to winter ‘20-’21.” — Barb Taylor Carpender, Taylored Alliances
  • “Guests are seeking travel assurance in record numbers — up 40% year to date — and producing better summer business that had been anticipated as they do. And, looking forward, the trend is continuing; with warm weather coastal resorts booking more strongly than winter/mountain resorts, where winter weather and complicated ski area operational considerations may be contributing to slower booking patterns to date.” —  Laird Sager, CEO of Red Sky Travel Insurance, whose customers include both travelers and rental property owners around the U.S. and Hawaii.
  • “The initial wave of bookings that resulted from the release of operational plans by the big ski companies has waned,  and consumers have reverted to booking patterns akin to late summer, with short booking lead times and a “coast is clear” approach. The result is a mixed bag, with strong arrivals for now through December, but only modest activity beyond that.” — Tom Foley, Inntopia/DestiMetrics and The Insights Collective
  • There appears to be a (COVID-induced) shift in lodging preferences. Guests are showing preference for larger, stand-alone vacation rental lodging over more dense condominium rentals and traditional full-service hotels, whose usually attractive amenities and services are often being limited by COVID protocols.” — Kellen Kruse, Air DNA
  • “Just as the lodging data is a proxy for the destination guest,  we can similarly see that retail sales data indicates that local business and day traffic is rebounding more rapidly. For example, Vail’s taxable lodging sales are down almost 54%, while other taxable sales are only down 16%.” — Susan Rubin-Stewart, customer contact consultant and analyst for the Insights Collective

So while the vote’s in from a political perspective, it’s still, “too early to predict” mountain tourism ‘20-’21 and will depend largely on how we, together, manage the pandemic and adjust to the changing economic landscape. Charles Darwin’s statement about “survival of the fittest” is well suited to the pandemic, but his subsequent amendment to “the most adaptive” is the statement that best suits the broader situation and determines the winners and losers going forward.  So, stay tuned — we’ll be tracking the trends, working the data, and sharing our ongoing insights on a weekly basis.

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