Tourists excited, anxious about 2021 summertime travel |

Tourists excited, anxious about 2021 summertime travel

By Dave Belin, RRC Associates
Brought to you by the Vail Daily and the Insights Collective
Most travelers would like large outdoor events to resume, but with safety adjustments and size limitations. Photo source from RRC Associates, IDA Survey, May 2021
Most travelers would like large outdoor events to resume, but with safety adjustments and size limitations. Photo source from RRC Associates, IDA Survey, May 2021

Many Americans are looking forward to traveling again this summer, with several new research studies pointing to a high level of interest in hitting the road. Upwards of 90% of American travelers already have at least one leisure trip planned for this summer, with an average of three leisure trips overall, according to research from Destination Analysts

While many people are starting to feel generally safe doing certain travel-related activities, some visitors remain hesitant. For example, a recent national survey from RRC Associates shows that Americans are looking forward to outdoor events/farmers markets and indoor retail shopping, while some indoor facilities, like gyms/rec centers and bars/night clubs, are still viewed with caution. 

Having a sense of how your visitors feel about these issues will allow local businesses and chambers to provide the right communication, safety guidance and level of service this summer. 


The Vail Valley prepares for a cautious return to normal this summer

After nearly two years off, Avon’s Salute to the USA is back on the schedule. It may again draw tens of thousands to the town’s Nottingham Park.

Avon Arts and Special Events Manager Danita Dempsey said in addition to the annual July 4 celebration, the town is also planning nine “Avon Live” concerts this year, as well as 14 sunset shows. Residents and visitors can expect other shows added to the calendar.

Since the last of those events was in 2019, Dempsey said there’s a lot of planning involved. But planning involves more than just dusting off the blueprints from previous events.

“You have to re-think all of your plans and planning,” Dempsey said. To that end, town officials are working with emergency services agencies and rounding up volunteers for those events.

An unknown is how people will behave in crowds after a year of pandemic isolation. The uncertainty isn’t limited to big events. Longtime Vail Valley wedding planning JoAnn Moore said it looks like there will be plenty of weddings this year, the ones planned for 2021 and those postponed from 2020. Moore said she knows of one florist already booked for 40 weddings this summer.

“The industry is coming back,” Moore said. But, she added, many venues are struggling to hire people. Other vendors have either shut down or are working around other jobs.

“We all need to be practicing patience,” Moore said. That might be difficult. While some vendors aren’t answering their phones, there are brides who had to delay their ceremonies last year, and want their dream weddings this year.

“It’s not the same,” Moore said. “It’s going to be a little different this year.”

Some pandemic changes will persist, to enhance guest safety

Vail for years has heavily marketed its summer season, and in the past year or so has launched the website to inform guests about what’s on offer. This summer may continue some outdoor dining and “common consumption” areas that allow guests to wander the resort villages while enjoying adult beverages.

Changing state rules may limit that freedom. Vail Town Council Member Jenn Bruno urged residents and visitors to contact state Rep. Dylan Roberts and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, both of whom represent Eagle County, to ask for help at the state level. Maintaining at least some of the changes implemented last summer are important for the guest experience, Bruno said.

“It really added to the whole visitor experience being able to eat (and drink) outside,” Bruno said. “Especially because we’re a pedestrian village (the changes) seemed like a natural fit.”

But given Vail’s previous efforts, Bruno said she believes the town is ready for what’s expected to be a very busy summer.

“Lifting (public health) orders increases our ability to absorb additional visitation, Bruno said. And, Eagle County’s high vaccination rate should create a level of comfort among both guests and residents, she added.

With that in mind, “It’s very important that everyone get a vaccination if they can.”

Survey suggests anticipation is high among vaccinated travelers

The RRC Associates traveler study compiled responses from over 4,000 active Americans who travel, shop, dine, and attend events. The vast majority of survey respondents is planning to take an overnight leisure trip this summer, a strong sign of the pent-up demand that has been talked about. 

As well, 84% have received one or more COVID-19 vaccine shots, far greater than the roughly 50% of all Americans who have had at least one dose. The higher vaccination level among travelers is clearly contributing to the increased interest in getting back to visiting favorite destinations once again this summer. 

Encouragingly, survey respondents are feeling significantly more safe than they were three months ago doing a variety of travel-related activities, like dining, shopping, attending festivals/events, staying in hotels and watching spectator sports. This is good news for business owners and mountain town officials, signaling that visitors are anticipating spending money at local businesses and generating local sales and lodging tax dollars. 

Some spin-off benefits pandemic-prompted outdoor dining

The popularity of newly-created outdoor dining spaces, sometimes on sidewalks, parking spaces, or other public rights-of-way, is perhaps an unintended consequence of the pandemic. And, indeed, many would like to see these outdoor dining spaces remain permanent. According to the survey, 57 percent support keeping these alternative outdoor eating locations. 

“One of the benefits to come out of the pandemic is this kind of innovation, which in many cases might have taken local government years to enable via permitting. It’s a benefit to the destination, residents and visitors,” commented Carl Ribaudo of Insights Collective. 

However, a clear delineation remains between comfort with outdoor and certain indoor settings. People are very likely to want to dine at restaurants with outdoor seating, attend outdoor events, such as festivals, farmers markets and concerts. Intent to patronize retail stores, both small boutiques and large, big-box stores, is also high. 

But visitors remain noticeably more cautious with other indoor businesses like gyms/rec centers, movie theaters, indoor spectator sports and bars/night clubs. These results show that visitor sentiment remains mixed and that certain businesses will likely have to continue to navigate the challenges of perceptions of safety.

Outdoor dining has been very popular during the pandemic, and travelers support keeping those options in the future. Photo source from RRC Associates, IDA Survey, May 2021
Outdoor dining has been very popular during the pandemic, and travelers support keeping those options in the future. Photo source from RRC Associates, IDA Survey, May 2021

Guests favor size limits, precautions for large events

Regarding special events and outdoor festivals, while people are ready for events to resume, they tend to want some limits on the size of the events and some safety protocols in place. With such precautions in place, 79% say they would attend an outdoor concert or arts festival this summer. On the other hand, without any precautions, 66% are unlikely to attend such outdoor events. 

“The feedback is clear — event attendees do not want to be in a crowded space,” said Brian London of Insights Collective. “Less is more, in that fewer attendees and less crowding will lead to higher satisfaction.” The takeaway is that interest in outdoor events is high, but some level of limitation needs to be in place for attendees to want to partake. 

When it comes to vaccines and masks, this controversial issue appears to be less divisive among the survey respondents. The majority of travelers feel that having proof of vaccination should be required to board a commercial airline (59%), but a significant minority is opposed to a “vaccine passport” or other requirements (22%). 


Insights Collective; a Tourism Economy Think Tank and Resource Center – is a collaboration of destination travel industry experts who are collaborating and working, together with mountain resort communities and their stakeholders, to understand, plan, and navigate through the emerging tourism marketplace.  /

Turning vaccine requirements into a positive message

These results show that businesses will have to tread carefully in terms of how they approach encouraging or requiring customers or staff to show proof of vaccination. Spinning the issue positively, such as providing an incentive or coupon for vaccinations (like Krispy Kreme did last month), might be the best approach. 

“VIP seating sections, designated floors on hotels (and) lift lines reserved for those who are vaccinated are examples of rewarding those who are compliant,” noted Ralf Garrison of Insights Collective. 

Sentiment about travel and whether or not visitors feel safe doing certain things can evolve quickly, as local and national health guidance changes and people re-adjust to participating in activities they used to do. Indeed, the CDC revised its guidance about masks for vaccinated people just the other day. 

Nevertheless, individual visitors are likely to have different attitudes about masks, distancing, sanitization, and other policies. Irrespective of local nuances, this summer generally looks like it will be busy, with visitation levels to mountain destinations likely to be quite strong and a return to a summer somewhat more like we are all used to. 

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