Vail Valley, other mountain resorts have some bright spots among dark clouds |

Vail Valley, other mountain resorts have some bright spots among dark clouds

There's pent-up demand, but lodging occupancy trends still don't match pre-COVID levels

The new Insights Collective has decades of experience examining the travel and resort industry. And its members are not sure what’s going on, either.

Members of the group are volunteering their time to help evaluate the world of the COVID-19 pandemic and navigate it as well as possible. But facts are still in short supply.

During an Aug. 13 webinar for Vail Valley Partnership members, 66 people listened to a host of data, and initial evaluation of trends as the mountain resort industry heads into the coming ski season.

There’s a good bit of bad news, as you’d expect. But there are some bright spots.

The bad news includes:

  • Vail’s April lodging occupancy was down 95% from 2019.
  • Reservations on the books for the next six months are down 42% from the previous year.
  • Rates will probably drop in the fall to try to boost occupancy.

But there are bright spots.

Group member Tom Foley of Destimetrics by Inntopia has long studied occupancy, rate and revenue. He told webinar viewers that Vail Valley lodging rates are up slightly over the previous year.

Eager to travel

There also seems to be a good bit of pent-up demand to travel. But, Foley added, people are booking rooms very close to their travel dates.

“People are looking over their shoulders to see if the coast is clear,” Foley said.

Still, Foley added, data isn’t showing a return to normal booking patterns. There isn’t yet parity with the previous season in terms of reservations.

On the other hand, surveys show there’s still interest in travel.

Chris Cares, a founder of RRC Associates, said his firm recently conducted a mountain traveler sentiment survey, and has more than 35,000 responses.

That survey shows more than two-thirds of respondents are “eager to travel.”

But the survey also showed that people want to feel safe at a destination. The same number, 70%, also want to be able to cancel reservations.

Safe in the mountains

While there’s interest in travel, there are some notable exceptions.

Of the mountain travelers surveyed, 90% say traveling on a cruise line is unsafe. Nearly 80% don’t want to attend conferences.

But those mountain travelers know what they want, with two-thirds feeling comfortable skiing or snowboarding.

Survey respondents are are more confident driving than flying, and people are still cautious about dining indoors, Cares said.

That creates a challenge for winter, Cares added.

Still, the summer has been busy.

Group member Jesse True owns a retail shop in Frisco. He said that appearances suggest summer traffic is “off the charts.”

With that, though, are pockets of local residents wary of welcoming guests back to destinations.

But when guests visit may be about to change.

Group founder Ralf Garrison said that travel patterns for years have aligned with school vacations.

With many schools going to online or hybrid learning models, Garrison said “It’s beginning to look like there may be a great deal more flexibility” in travel times. That, he said, could help level out occupancy peaks and valleys.

“It seems like a huge opportunity,” Garrison said. ‘That’s an opportunity you might want to think about.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

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