| AspenTimes.com

Tourists excited, anxious about 2021 summertime travel

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. 

Insights from Aspen & Snowmass

Aspen’s experiences in 2020 will help feed a positive summer

When it comes to discussions regarding “reopening” in 2021, Aspen (and Snowmass) are a little more ahead of the curve, given that the communities were open to visitation last summer as well as throughout the winter season.

Eliza Voss, vice president, destination marketing, with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, says she hopes local businesses and leaders will be able to build off those experiences and use them to prepare for summer 2021.

Voss said the City of Aspen will once again allow operations in the right of way based on feedback from the community survey they conducted earlier this year as well as the success of that program last summer.

“Our role as a destination management organization since the beginning of COVID has been to thread the needle and balance the public health orders with resident sentiment, business needs and guest expectations,” she said. 

In an effort to provide useful, relevant content about the destination to visitors, officials launched the “How to Aspen in a COVID-19 world” educational content and video series, to ensure visitors understood what was expected of them when visiting Aspen. 

“As public health restrictions sunset, and responsibilities go back to individual business owners and operators to make their requirements, we will continue to provide guests with educational information on how best to enjoy Aspen, what they can expect upon arrival, as well as what vaccine or testing requirements are in place to attend special events or participate in certain activities,” she said.  

Visitors are still likely to choose destinations based on their personal comfort level, potentially seeking out places to visit based on how strict or relaxed their COVID restrictions are. That will require some finesse on the part of Aspen businesses and residents, she added.

“In Aspen, many of our visitors come from locations that don’t have the same requirements that we do, so we suspect there will still be some confusion and teachable moments as we navigate emerging from a global pandemic, and hope that these interactions can be handled with respect.” 

Snowmass encourages respect, flexibility to build positive visitor experiences

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said flexibility will remain key to the community’s tourist success this summer. 

“With public health requirements easing to recommendations, there will be a broad spectrum of ‘rules of engagement’ based on the decisions of individual stakeholders and business owners,” she said. 

Other entities, such as public transit, will still remain subject to federal mandates for mask requirements. Keeping the community up to date on those changes will be a big job for the rest of the year, she added.

“The most important thing for all of us – locals and visitors – to remember is that there is a wide range of ‘risk tolerance’ among people and we see a big opportunity to remind people to be kind, mindful and respectful of others,” she explained.   

“For some special events like our Thursday Night Free Concert Series on Fanny Hill, we are fortunate to have a very large venue where we can encourage those who are more ‘COVID-cautious’ to select a less crowded area from which to enjoy the show. Overall as a Tourism office, we will work diligently to provide locals and visitors the latest and greatest information on what will certainly be a very fluid summer.”

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.

www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com

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. 

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The percentage of stays that are unpaid, which correlates closely to owner usage, has remained up over historical norms since the pandemic began in March 2020.  Source: Inntopia Business Intelligence
The percentage of stays that are unpaid, which correlates closely to owner usage, has remained up over historical norms since the pandemic began in March 2020. Source: Inntopia Business Intelligence

Aspen’s influx of year-round residents should bring benefits to the community

The switch to a remote lifestyle and its impact on Aspen was evident early on in the pandemic, said Eliza Voss, vice president, destination marketing, with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

“Real estate sales skyrocketed after a quiet spring, the typical week-long hotel guest turned into a season-long renter, and it was widely reported that Aspen School District had never seen such high enrollment,” Voss said. 

As a result within these past 14 months since the onset of the pandemic, Aspen has seen the RETT increase, lodging tax collections decrease and school enrollment at normal levels. She said it still remains to be seen what the long term impacts of the short term decisions families and individuals made during the first year of the pandemic will have on Aspen. 

The pandemic accelerated many people’s relocation plans

“We are certainly seeing second homeowners spend more time in their residence, and new residents coming to live in their newly purchased or rented homes,” she noted. “We have heard from some of these new residents that moving to the area from their home city was part of their 5 year plan, and COVID just accelerated those plans.” 

Voss said we can surmise that new residents have chosen to live in Aspen for the same reason many long time locals have: the lifestyle and recreational opportunities here are very attractive. But life in the mountains is distinctly different from city life, which can come as a surprise to transplants, so Voss said it’s prudent to welcome these new neighbors into the fold and share our community values. 

“Our community used to bemoan the emptiness of the homes in the West End, so perhaps COVID has brought vitality back to some of our vacant neighborhoods which could bring resiliency to our community in ways that our pre-pandemic life couldn’t have predicted,” she said.

Snowmass also sees a major spike in long-term rentals

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said the same issues hold true in her community.

“Real estate brokers and property managers are saying that the market for long-term rentals (defined as over 30 days) has never been stronger,” she said. “For some, the pandemic has provided previously unimagined flexibility. And, it’s certainly not just those at or nearing retirement age.”

Abello said many coastal residents have also figured out that working remotely can actually be a money-saver, as well. 

“Anecdotally, I know a couple of families with second homes in Snowmass whose 20-something children have been working remotely from here for the past year rather than from shared apartments in cities like San Francisco and New York,” she said. 

“And regardless if they are able to continue to have extended stays once their cities and workplaces reopen, we can be certain that their affinity for Snowmass and the lifestyle it can provide will stay with them, creating loyal ambassadors for years to come.”

Mountain towns have always been a place to which one can escape the noise, pollution and daily grind of the concrete jungle, and conversely have been magnets that attract folks with peace and quiet, clean air, relaxation and panoramic vistas.

This combination of escape and attraction is what makes mountain communities desirable places to live, either as a primary or secondary home. Long-term residents know this: unless they’re among those lucky enough to spend their entire lives in our communities, they’ve sought the escape, found the attraction, and made the move. But it’s not a move everyone can manage, and so the rise of the “treehouse,” the second home in the mountains to which to escape. 

Chief among roadblocks to full-time mountain residency is employment. Most people find their career in the city, and in many cases that same work for the same money isn’t available in smaller communities. Queue a pandemic, and with it a literal shift in how the world works.

Suddenly there’s a new phenomenon in rural America, coined elsewhere as “in-migration” – the escape of new residents and second homeowners from their urban domiciles to the attraction of the mountains. What began almost immediately after the pandemic declaration as a significant increase in second home occupancy has evolved into the full-on migration of second homeowners and wholly new residents to resort towns. The Insights Collective is working to understand the up- and downside consequences of these changes.

Changes in Rental Inventory

  • The upside: Tired or declining inventory is getting a facelift, raising the overall standard of inventory in the town and putting renovation dollars into the pockets of local suppliers and contractors. That increase in quality also increases the potential rental revenue or resale value of the unit at a future date, essentially “banking” revenue for the community.

At the same time, mountain towns across the West are reporting an aggregate increase of 4.8 percent in taxable retail sales during the past 10 months, despite lower occupancy and shut-downs. While not likely entirely attributable to new residents, there is a strong correlation between the two.

  • The downside: A majority of second homes in mountain communities are part of the traditional leisure rental pool, either through property management companies, online markets like Airbnb or both. Second homeowner use over the past year contributed to a 5.5 percent decline in available units in western mountain resorts this past winter versus 2018/19.

While it doesn’t sound consequential, that amounts to slightly more than 188,000 room nights. Each of which can potentially generate an average of $399 per night based on DestiMetrics’ data, for a potential loss of $75 million in revenue and the corresponding lodging taxes.


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.

www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com

Workforce Housing

  • The upside: Workforce housing is a long-standing issue that public and private sectors have been challenged to address holistically. New and increased urgency is a strong catalyst to compel both sectors to find solutions. Says Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, “Second homeowners and new residents bring significant benefits to our community. It is incumbent on the private and public sector to increase our housing stock dedicated to the local workforce.”
  • The downside: New residents purchasing properties or units in mountain communities are further exacerbating pressure on available and affordable workforce housing, a significant pre-pandemic condition across the industry. This drives the workforce to the outer edges of the community or, worse yet, to other communities altogether, creating challenges servicing the needs of both the tourist- and resident-based local economies.

Real Estate Transactions

  • The upside: Real estate inventory in mountain towns is consistently selling as quickly as it’s listed, often over both market value and asking price. This generates new-found home equity for non-selling residents, and sellers are able to capitalize financially on the high demand. The resulting significant increases in real estate transfer taxes can be a mitigating factor to town budgets, perhaps even partially funding workforce housing solutions.
  • The downside: What was barely affordable housing in many communities is quickly moving out of the reach of all but the most affluent of buyers, adding to the aforementioned workforce housing issue. That’s potentially creating a localized valuation bubble and putting new homeowners and the long-term financial health of the community at risk, if so.

Changing the Business Curve

  • The upside: Communities have long sought a leveling of the peaks and valleys of weekend/midweek visitation, and the pandemic (to a degree through in-migration) has partially accomplished that.

Says Dave Belin, director of consulting services at RRC Associates and an Insights Collective member, “New residents were taking advantage of flexible work schedules to ski and recreate midweek. This incremental demand is anticipated to continue this summer on trails and in outdoor dining.” These patterns of leveled visitation are also reflected in the Inntopia / DestiMetrics occupancy data.

  • The downside: While there is potential for midweek overcrowding resulting in a loss of ‘down days’ in the community, it’s frankly difficult to identify a downside to a smoother, more consistent business cycle.

Today we’ve only scratched the surface of in-migration. Issues such as physical infrastructure, parking, broadband capacity, political orientation, schooling and public health and safety are just some of the many not addressed that the Insights Collective sees as manifesting across the industry in the months to come. As destination resort populations evolve, leaders and constituents have an opportunity to embrace and exploit the upside, mitigate the downside and meet the pre-existing and new challenges head-on.

Post-COVID Road Trip Research – Eyewitness Report

Activities like cycling are expected to be popular with resort town visitors this summer season, and communities may want to prepare accordingly. (Photo by Ralf Garrison)
Activities like cycling are expected to be popular with resort town visitors this summer season, and communities may want to prepare accordingly. (Photo by Ralf Garrison)
Listen to the accompanying podcast from Ralf Garrison and Insights Collective here


To fully understand a tourist, you must “be” a tourist, right? 


Recognizing local quality of life is critical as Aspen tourism returns 

Given the pent-up demand, the success of the vaccine rollout and the attractiveness of Aspen as a destination to get outside and reconnect with family and friends, a strong summer season here is anticipated. 

But Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, agrees with Garrison that while the summer is looking positive, long-term success will only really be possible with a local-friendly approach. 

“While this is great news for the business community that suffered throughout much of 2020 and winter 2020-2021 due to restrictions on their operations, we are also mindful that we need to preserve the quality of life for all members of our community,” Voss said.

To do so, ACRA has engaged Destination Think! to begin a destination management planning process this summer, which involves stakeholder engagement, resident sentiment surveys and tourism town halls. 

“Compiling all the feedback, we will ultimately develop a final plan with action items that will allow us to plan for the future of tourism in Aspen, as well as manage the present,” she added. “Tourism provides economic vitality for Aspen and keeping that in harmony with the lifestyle of residents is crucial to the sustainability of our destination.”

2021 promises a return to basics in Snowmass

Rose Abello, tourism director with Snowmass Tourism, said the community also anticipates a strong summer, not only with visitors but also increased use by part-time residents and second homeowners.

“We will offer a full complement of activities, activations and events for locals and visitors alike to enjoy,” she said. “With thousands of acres and hundreds of miles of biking/hiking trails, individuals will be able to choose to get away from it all or to connect in more vibrant environments.

This year will also provide an opportunity for the Town of Snowmass to get back to the roots of its official vision statement, she added.

As that aspirational document states, “… we wish to be seen as welcoming, dynamic, convenient and successful. We will always be responsible stewards of our environment, economy and society. When successful, Snowmass Village will have achieved the quality of life and economic vitality that will assure our future as a sustainable resort community.”

With little historical data or hard research to guide us down the post-COVID road to recovery, I’ve selflessly volunteered to do some personal, experiential road travel research – a distinct departure from the Insight Collective’s disciplined, evidence-based approach – intended for those readers planning for mud season travel or preparing for summer tourism. Personal observations and anecdotes follow:

The Scenario: Our trip plan emulated nearly half of the U.S. adult population and many of the older “boomers” who are now inoculated and free to travel and congregate, subject to CDC and local guidelines. And with vaccinations now open to all adults and restrictions dropping rapidly, there was an underlying feeling of impunity and exuberance among road warriors most everywhere we went. It sorta feels like maybe we’ve forgotten but are now reawakening to what normal life feels like.

Transportation: A driving road trip to the warmer Southwest was a no-brainer, so we loaded the SUV with a luggage pod, bike rack and our research tools (golf, camping, hiking, pickleball, biking gear, etc.) and took off. Road travel was pretty straightforward but early season road construction has already begun. Lots of RV traffic seemed to constipate traffic – reminiscent of days gone by – and gas prices were on the rise. Perhaps we’ve gotten spoiled this past year?

Lodging: Catching up with friends and family is top of list for many but tricky when conflicting pandemic protocols or ideologies are in play; early, honest communication and empathy is recommended. Roadside motels were readily available, but campgrounds were limited and RV parks were already busy, requiring reservations well in advance. Some Walmart stores apparently once again offer their parking lots for overflow RV camping; imagine a tailgate party, sponsored by makers of Geritol and catered by Walmart, to get the idea. 

Activities: Attractions and activities were based on COVID-appropriate outdoor options, to which we added dining al fresco at every opportunity and our perpetual ritual of taking on fewer calories than we burn off: 

·       Hiking: With more people outdoors, trails are busier, advanced reservations are increasing and masking protocol is anybody’s guess.

·       Biking: All kinds – road, mountain, electric and motorcycle – were already on a roll but have exploded in this last year. New bikes are hard to get, bike lanes are busy and evidence of increased bike infrastructure is apparent in some places (and non-existent in others). That turned out to be a good indicator of communities that had anticipated and welcomed travelers like us. 

·       Golfing: Has enjoyed a resurgence, making tee times tough to get and requiring use of reservation systems, some of which felt archaic and often prioritize local residents. Not for everyone. It’ll be interesting to see how many newbies stick with golf as traditional options re-open. 

Synopsis: Our experience was a good one. But understanding COVID protocols and local expectations was tricky; virtually every location and situation was unique, often not readily apparent and occasionally awkward. Best info was found on the front doors of retail and restaurants. We always started out masked, then adjusted as appropriate. 

Worth it? Definitely! But not reminiscent of the relaxing, hassle-free vacations of old. Bring lowered expectations, patience and a good book. Anecdotally, we didn’t experience much local pushback, but did notice a few local folks checking out the dirty Jeep, decorated with outdoor gear and Colorado license plates, before a welcoming smile appeared.


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. www.TheInsightsCollective.com  / info@theinsightscollective.com

The Resort Town Counterpart

So, having driven down the road (to recovery) as a visitor, I’m reverting to the resort town vocational perspective and concluding with a few personal observations as food for thought: 

·      Demand = Busy Summer Pent-up demand is clearly in effect, supported by other evidence, and should be anticipated, particularly for smaller, more remote leisure destinations that feature outdoor activities.

·       Supply = Preparedness for Capacity Management If “forewarned is forearmed,” then you and your community should be anticipating and preparing to manage visitor capacity in a way that works for all concerned – not just visitors, but the conditions and expectations under which they are welcome by local residents. Under-capacity or anticipation can look just like over-tourism and can lead to misunderstandings about the true marketplace forces at play.

Rhetorical Question: Is Tourism Only About Tourists? 

Consider tourism not as the only goal, but a viable means toward the broader goal of a viable, economically sustainable lifestyle for those who live, work and rely on resort towns for body and soul. Not a silver bullet or panacea for sure, but when managed properly and weighed against other options, tourism offers a manageable balance of benefits and detriments with the bonus of a not otherwise achievable lifestyle for residents.

There you have it.

The Political Orientation of a Destination is Shaping What Visitors See and Who Might Visit

Hiding in plain sight. While the world was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and likely as one of its outcomes, the United States was further polarizing around nearly every cultural issue we faced. Red and blue became more vivid, as did black and white, male and female and young and old. 

As our divisions become starker, it seems like everyday decisions would be influenced by which side of the dividing line a person stands. That is, how much are social issues and political perspectives responsible for product and brand choices, or to where people want to take a vacation? 

Given this situation, we decided to research to understand better the extent that U.S. consumers’ positions on social/political issues and their perceptions of a destination’s socio-political orientation influenced decision-making to visit that destination. 

Political variables factor into consumer choices

What we found first was surprising, but with deeper analysis, the findings began to make sense in today’s world. Political orientation, gender, race and the values within those categories are in play every day in the consumer marketplace.


Can travel help remedy an over-politicized world?

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said she believes travel is part of the solution to our more polarized culture.

“As Mark Twain said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.’”

Abello said Snowmass, as a destination, should appeal to anyone who appreciates the splendor of the natural environment, wide open spaces and a variety of activities, dining and accommodations. 

“With the ability to find quiet solitude or attend vibrant events, Snowmass provides an environment to reflect, gather and connect,” she said. “I think there is something about being in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains that helps bring scale and perspective to the issues that we confront daily.  

Aspen builds on its long reputation of nonpartisan escape

More than political alignment, many people are choosing travel destinations based on shared values and interests, said Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. As a result, destinations are trying to attract visitors in this same way.

“As a destination management organization ACRA’s role is really to attract quality visitors who are invested in similar values such as stewardship vs. targeting those visitors that might spend the most amount of money,” she said. “In addition, and perhaps most importantly, visitors want to feel welcome no matter what demographic profile they belong to.”

Luckily Aspen has this welcoming atmosphere, Voss said. “And, thanks to modern day Aspen founders Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, a history of being a place to step away from the noise of daily routines and connect with fellow humans on the underlying values of society and culture in a nonpartisan way.”  

Voss said that Aspen’s international reputation as a center of positive and unconventional thought continues to make it a draw.

“We are fortunate that the Aspen Idea of mind, body, spirit lives on and inspires both visitors and locals alike. Using our history as a foundation, coupled with present day community values, Aspen is well poised to welcome travelers of all walks of life who share our desire for open dialogue and lifelong education.”

According to the 2020 Consumer Culture Report, “71% of consumers prefer buying from companies aligned with their values. Twenty-one percent of Baby Boomers surveyed say buying from brands that share their values and ideologies is essential; with Generation Xers, this number rises to 50%, and for Millennials, even more, 62% believe it is important.”

The research highlights the importance of aligning brand, company values and ethos with the customer’s, so that businesses seek to attract or retain to remain competitive and relevant.

Consumers not only purchase from companies and products aligned with their social or political beliefs, but two in three have boycotted a company they previously purchased from because of its stance on an issue. 

Political orientation also influences where we live. A recent study by Jacob Brown and Ryan Enos suggests people live near others from the same political party. Using spatial data computation, the authors present evidence of extensive partisan segregation throughout the country. (ryandenos.com)

Personal politics also impact where we go on vacation

If political alignment influences the products we buy and where we live, why wouldn’t political orientation, gender, age, race, personal values and purchase behavior also influence tourism destination selection?

Our findings show that as many as 39% of those politically oriented to the right indicate a destination’s political orientation influences the types of places they visit. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed on the left indicate the same. Those that identified themselves in the center politically were the least influenced by the political orientation of a destination they would consider visiting. 

Political Orientation Influences Types of Places Would Visit and Practices 

Survey data showed that individuals who identify politically as right or left leaning were likely to be somewhat influenced by the political orientation of a potential travel destination. Source: Travel Analytics Group, Social Issues and Values Survey. Used by permission.
Survey data showed that individuals who identify politically as right or left leaning were likely to be somewhat influenced by the political orientation of a potential travel destination. Source: Travel Analytics Group, Social Issues and Values Survey. Used by permission.

And real-world politics influence visitor perceptions

These findings suggest significant implications for tourism destinations. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for destination marketing organizations is that they cannot control how that message is being shaped to visitors and potential visitors.

A destination’s political perception is shaped internally by residents and politicians and externally by others outside of tourism, such as traditional media and social media influencers. Examples of this can be seen at every level. 

At the state level, consumers have seen the impact of political orientation in Georgia and the impact of its legislature’s changes in voting regulations. These resulted in Major League Baseball relocating the All-Star game to Colorado, as well as critical responses from Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, two of Georgia’s most venerable, locally-headquartered corporations. They are now joined by a host of other companies based in and outside of Georgia.

How much impact do ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon, influence consumer decisions not to travel there? In Southern California’s trendy Huntington Beach, one of the coast’s most desirable areas, this politically conservative city was recently the site of a controversial “White Lives Matter” rally. How many consumers will subsequently decide that this is not a resort town they want to visit? 

The political orientation issue can also be regionalized as DMOs in the South have had to juggle issues related to Confederate monuments being publicly fought over by those for and against their removal. 


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.TheInsightsCollective.com /  info@theinsightscollective.com

So how do you still promote tourism in this climate?

Amid this polarization and politicization, DMOs are still tasked with destination promotion and messaging. While they are crafting inviting messages to visit, some are being undermined by political events they can’t control. And in other cases, they may be turning off a part of the traveling public.

More recently, some DMOs indicated they want to attract the “right kind of visitors,” those that match their destination’s values. Which side of the divide will consumers perceive they are on in taking this positioning? Is it the logical extension of a divided country? 

Historically, the tourism industry has been about communicating destination attributes and largely avoiding political issues. This situation is changing. Perhaps it was inevitable that polarization would reach the tourism industry. It is new territory and destinations are going to have to be very nuanced moving forward.

But be careful; taking a position can either repulse some of the more significant generic visitor segments or align with others. It could attract entirely new visitor segments looking for a place where they feel comfortable, or completely turn off others. 

All signs point to strong demand for winter ski travel – but are we ready?

Revenue forecast data shows the potential for 2021 to outperform 2020 significantly. (Source: Inntopia)


Thoughtful visitor restrictions could be part of Aspen’s long-term strategy

Maintaining the balance between the quality of life for residents while also preserving the visitor experience is nothing new for our community, explained Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. 

“Even pre-COVID, ACRA has been looking to destination management tactics in order to find the appropriate balance for our community,” she said. “By using sustainable tourism strategies like education, dispersion and collaboration, we believe we can be mindful about welcoming visitors back following a year of travel restrictions. But these approaches are prudent regardless of what extraneous factors are at play, and ensure resilience for our tourism based economy.”

Voss noted that the experimental foray into a reservation system for the Maroon Bells indicates that while there are still some kinks to work out to improve the user experience, those kinds of changes have been effective – and may stick around after the pandemic has passed.  

“We imagine that the benefits of reservation systems that have mitigated impacts during COVID are likely here to stay,” she said. “Our role is to educate and manage expectations for both the visitor and year-round community, and as part of that ongoing effort we are engaging in a Destination Management Planning process with Destination Think! So we can reimagine tourism, and look at how it can actually have restorative impacts vs. negative.”

Snowmass also advocates careful planning

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said that while there is much talk about pent-up demand, visitor demand is not guaranteed, and her organization’s tourism strategies will reflect that. 

“In Snowmass and in Aspen we were hit hard with the decreased demand this winter season, especially in January and in February,” she noted. “As we look to summer 2021 and the future, we will continue to market Snowmass to our target audiences.  We offer a great, world-class experience here and much of what we offer – access to the outdoors, wide open spaces, a wide variety of lodging and dining options – should resonate well as we transition to a new normal.”

Abello said that messaging will also continue to keep our COVID-era precautions in mind.   

“As a tourism organization, our focus –  once visitors are in-market – is to present a wide variety of options and activities that engage, and disperse, the visitors as necessary,” she said.


As we look forward, whether it be this immediate summer or more distant winter, post-pandemic demand will bring with it a few challenges. Some of these will be new and others reoccurring, but all can be anticipated and thus premeditated.

If the floodgates are thrown open in the name of economic prosperity, there is the potential for resident pushback and renewed concern for over-tourism. If the wrong re-opening and re-welcoming strategy is deployed, resorts run the risk of coming across as under-prepared.  

Tom Foley, SVP of business process and analytics at Inntopia, explained the situation. “There are several ways to indicate strength for summer, but perhaps the most notable is by comparing current revenue gains.” 

“We can also be encouraged by looking at data on rate strategy intention,” added Foley, “where the left side of the chart confirms a decline in properties intending to lower rates.”

Fewer properties are indicating they intend to lower rates this summer, a good indicator of the potential for a strong season. (Source: Inntopia)

With revenue up and lodging discounts down, will the good times continue into winter?

Many in the industry are anticipating strong pent-up demand this summer. But you must ask what happens after that? Not all the market is ready or willing to travel. The immediate surge is just part of the market,” said Carl Ribaudo, president and chief strategist of SMG Consulting.  

Other headwinds include newly discovered COVID-19 variants, vaccine distribution uncertainty along with newly announced side-effects and subsequent halt of distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, not to mention potential pushback against origin markets with high caseloads. 

Industry response has been to limit supply in the name of visitor experience 

Even as the industry aims to overcome uncertainty, many resorts have responded to COVID concerns by limiting physical access to the mountain, said Dave Belin, director of consulting services with RRC Associates. 

“We’re hearing from many ski areas in different parts of the country that they are planning to continue some form of limiting capacity on peak days, whether through caps on weekend ticket sales or parking limits on busy days,” he said. “The explicit reason is to preserve the visitor experience, a concept that applies to many other tourism destinations like beaches, theme parks or national parks.” 

Belin is of course mostly referring to the recent capacity announcement from Arapahoe Basin. For decades, a key strategy for Arapahoe Basin was to add more skiers. That is no longer the case. The ski area is now actively working to reduce the number of skiers on weekends and holidays. 

Arapahoe Basin will measure success by reducing parking challenges, keeping lift lines and other service lines short and by seeing smiling skier faces. This approach is a big “tell” about their future strategy: manage fewer people, lower operational expenses and increase demand.

Fewer visitors may positively impact quality of place, but if resorts are successful in managing expectations they will still be faced with staff-shortages, which has the potential to dilute the visitor experience. 

Preventing negative reviews is vital to bringing visitors back

When their experience is less than what they expect, negative word of mouth will spread on social media and other review sites – capping any efforts to promote the destination and welcome back travelers. Fewer visitors also have an impact on retail operations – less people walking past the stores mean fewer opportunities to ring the cash register.   

For resorts that are able to add appropriate levels of staff, a new challenge awaits. “Another issue facing resort communities will be where to house the labor force,” noted Ralf Garrison, destination resort advisor with The Advisory Group, “especially if affluent visitors extend their summer stay into winter – depleting the available housing supply.

As travelers make decisions about where to go this summer and winter, the opportunity is ours. Getting the supply variables right is a step in the right direction to a positive visitor experience.  


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. TheInsightsCollective.com /  info@theinsightscollective.com

Workforce housing still a critical issue for ski towns in 2021

The number of residential real estate transactions was up across the board in Colorado’s mountain counties in 2020, showing the high level of demand for properties in these locations.

Aspen continues to innovate in employee housing efforts

Aspen is home to the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, the oldest and largest mountain resort workforce housing program in the country. 

“As a community, we are grateful for the forethought of those who started APCHA and the ongoing commitment to workforce housing from Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, the Aspen City Council and the APCHA Board,” said Cindy Christensen, City of Aspen housing deputy director. 

“Because of this continuing, long-term investment, Aspen/Roaring Fork Valley was and is better suited than most to weather the growing intensity of pressure that every ski town in the west has felt on its housing market.” 

Christensen said that providing affordable housing opportunities for the local workforce remains a focus for the City of Aspen, as it recognizes its necessity to support those contributing to our community and economy’s success. Aspen City Council has prioritized creating more affordable housing, including 79 new units at Burlingame Ranch Phase 3 and potentially 300-plus units at the City’s Lumberyard property.

Eliza Voss, Vice President, Destination Marketing, with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said that the APCHA’s inclusive, valley-wide approach is crucial in both understanding and addressing the impacts COVID-19 has created, as well as fostering long-term resilience. 

Snowmass Village looks to increase inventory

Workforce housing also remains a top priority for the Town of Snowmass Village, and is a clearly identified goal of the Town Council.  

“Study after study has documented our region’s unaffordable housing prices, inventory shortages and ever expanding commutes for workers,” said Betsy Crum, housing director, Town of Snowmass Village. “We are working to add an additional 185 units to our current inventory of about 475 units. This is an ambitious goal and we hope to continue to work in partnership with other public/private sector entities to evolve our housing program.”

Crum agreed that housing remains the central issue in securing Snowmass’s future.   

“A world class mountain resort requires world class employees so an effective workforce housing program is as important as other critical infrastructure in our resort community,” she said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been many things – pick your word – disruptive, unprecedented, extraordinary,  a true black swan event. In several respects, the pandemic has also been an accelerant – creating additional pressure on already challenging issues related to tourism economics in mountain destinations. 

The pandemic has certainly accelerated the stress on workforce housing, which was already a difficult problem with few easy solutions. Ultimately, an adequate supply of workforce housing is a community-wide issue that can have impacts on the visitor experience and the overall destination’s competitiveness. 

Factors contributing to low workforce housing inventory

Indeed, residential real estate prices are up across the country; this surge is especially true in mountain communities across the U.S. Several factors have contributed to these increases – people moving to mountain communities from urban areas during the pandemic, traveler preference for short-term rentals over hotel rooms, second homeowners occupying their units for longer periods of time and the high level of interest in outdoor activities. Such patterns have added more strain to an already overburdened workforce housing supply in many popular vacation destinations. 

Tom Foley, SVP of business analytics at Inntopia, sees a specific change that the pandemic wrought. “Home and condo usage by owners in mountain destination towns is up across the board, meaning that in some cases inventory that might otherwise be used for short- or long-term workforce housing is not available,” Foley said. “What’s not entirely clear yet is to what extent owner stays are [directly] impacting workforce housing.” To some degree, second homeowner usage and short-term rentals during the pandemic are complicating the workforce housing issue. 

Destination-wide issue

If a restaurant is understaffed or a hotel can’t get its rooms cleaned in time, the visitor experience may be negatively impacted, jeopardizing potential return trips. The lack of workforce housing, therefore, has a direct effect on a destination’s attractiveness. Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG Consulting, agrees. “The continued lack of affordable housing for residents and employees within the tourism industry limits the competitiveness of the destination. If you don’t have enough employees to provide services to visitors, how competitive can you be?”

Beyond the quality of the visitor experience and the competitiveness of the destination, sales and lodging tax collections can be suppressed. According to Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs at National Ski Areas Association, “Without ample affordable housing, the entire community suffers – it impacts tax revenues significantly, businesses cannot fully operate, and impacts guest services across the board. Without affordable housing, all businesses will struggle to find workers.”  

New tools needed

Many large employers have focused on offering staff housing for their employees. In particular, ski areas across the country frequently provide subsidized, seasonal housing to their staff. According to the NSAA Kottke End of Season Report, 59% of all U.S. ski areas have employee housing. In the Rocky Mountain region, an even greater 76% of ski areas offer employee housing, with an average of 165 staff housed per ski area in the winter of 2019-20. These beds are essential because without housing, a large employer like a ski area can’t operate effectively, with potential impacts like reduced lift operations, longer lines at food and beverage outlets and an overall lower level of customer service. 

Many other smaller businesses in ski towns face the same challenges; hotels and restaurants need places for their employees to live, too. But these smaller businesses can’t always afford to provide housing by themselves. A community-wide, collaborative and creative approach is often necessary, as seen recently in Big Sky. The resort area in Montana has allocated $1.9 million of its 3% resort tax to the Big Sky Community Housing Trust to build affordable housing, 

In Colorado, the Town of Breckenridge continues to fund affordable housing efforts. “In addition to building new deed-restricted housing for locals, the Town is very committed to programs that preserve some of that inventory, through Buy Down Programs and deed restriction acquisition programs,” said Laurie Best, senior planner at the Town of Breckenridge. “Locally, most businesses, including critical infrastructure, are increasingly challenged to recruit and retain the employees they need,” added Best. 

Federal funding could prompt housing projects

Significantly, President Biden’s current infrastructure proposal includes major funding for affordable housing across the U.S., which could have a positive impact in mountain towns via direct funding for workforce housing projects in rural areas. 

“Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill has some very encouraging proposals on workforce housing, and he is smartly targeting rural communities with grants for workforce housing,” observed Dave Byrd. Byrd went on to say, “While the bill’s details remain to be defined, the proposal is encouraging, and the ski industry will be pushing innovative public-private agreements and funding to create sustainable and affordable housing in and near ski communities.”

The challenge of workforce housing has been on the front burner in many mountain communities for quite a while, but the pandemic pushed the issue to a critical level. To remain competitive and to provide an exceptional visitor experience, workforce housing is essential. As destinations look to new tools and funding sources, taking a broad, community-wide approach to workforce housing is more of a priority now than ever before. 


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. www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com

Measuring up: Driving the travel economy by changing how – and what – we measure

Bookings in the end of March were up 1580% versus 2020, and up 58.5% versus pre-pandemic 2019.
Source: Inntopia Business Intelligence

Traditional tourism metrics may not help in 2021

Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said that 2020’s unusual numbers will require some different metrics to predict this season’s tourist traffic.

“ACRA’s Destination Marketing and Snowmass Tourism’s efforts are partially funded by the lodging tax, so we have always looked at occupancy and average daily rate metrics,” she said. “Historically we have viewed these metrics as year over year measurements. Of course, this year, we need to look back 3 years to get a sense of where we are as compared to a pre-pandemic world.”

Voss said the booking window for many travelers is now much closer to their arrival date, so the ACRA will also see how continued flexible cancellation policies influence future booking patterns.

Additionally, factors such as the vaccination rates in top feeder markets or even the availability of flights from traditional tourist hometowns need to be looked at more closely, she explained. But those numbers don’t tell the entire story, she admitted.   

“Something a little outside of the ‘metrics and data’ box is measuring local sentiment, and the change in makeup of our communities with new residents, or part time residents spending more time here,” she said. “ACRA will dive into a destination management planning process in the summer of 2021, which will involve gaining insights into local sentiment so we can plan for what tourism should look like in our community for many years to come.”

A destination management plan is also critical to the community’s success as a sustainable destination, with flexibility being absolutely important to adapt to any future changes, she said.      

Snowmass looks to visitors who drive, versus fly

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said that a report outlining the origins and destinations of Aspen Airport travelers has traditionally been an important planning tool.

“This information helps us to geographically target the audiences we go after,” she said. “For example, our Phoenix flight not only serves the greater Phoenix population but also serves as a very important connection to key southern California cities.”

But Abello said last year’s drop in air traffic has prompted more marketing directed at car travel.  

“In 2020, as we watched the numbers of passengers going through TSA plummet, we expanded our ‘drive’ marketing efforts to include destinations within a 12-hour drive, especially targeting mountain bike enthusiasts with our IMBA Gold messaging,” she said. “Summer has always been a more important ‘drive market’ for us than winter and we will continue to assess that balance of spend between fly and drive markets as we see how 2021 evolves.”

Listen to the accompanying podcast from the Insights Collective here.


Destination travel providers have long since adopted reliable, actionable metrics to gauge the success or failure of their efforts to create thriving travel economies. And whether it’s the relatively isolated nature of their economies, the seasonality of revenue streams or the significant infrastructure requirements of snow sports, mountain travel partners and suppliers are proactive with a wide range of data.

But suppliers and their overall communities have both a need and opportunity to change how and what they measure to drive the evolution of the industry.

“How” you measure – recovery vs trajectory

Typically, suppliers and governments measure quantitative performance such as taxes, visitation and resource use in terms of year-over-year (YOY) comparisons. Measuring during similar periods helps ensure that conditions such as weather, economic cycles and holidays are similar in both periods, allowing them to identify what is and isn’t working on the operational or promotional side.

The resulting data provide a measure of annual growth or decline, which becomes actionable. But when you encounter disruption in one of the data sets (say, a pandemic, to use an unlikely and extreme example), interested parties need to adjust to ensure they’re seeing performance in the right context.

For example, if we measure lodging bookings at mountain resorts in the third week of March 2021 versus 2020, we find that bookings are up 1,580% due to shuttered destinations at the same time last year. That, in a nutshell, is a recovery metric that helps you understand emergence from the downside, but has little long-term value.

For long-term value we add more data and also compare the same week versus 2019. The results? Bookings are up 58.5% compared to the same week in 2019. We now have both a recovery metric and a long-term trajectory metrics to qualify our recovery findings and make sure we’re on track. For the record, the current 2021 gains are dominated by pent-up demand, with the dramatic gains over 2020 also largely attributable to last year’s shutdown.

While this is a simplified example, the Insights Collective and I recommend that a multi-year discipline be applied across all data points measured, so that decisions through the recovery keep the long-term interests of the supplier or destination on track.

“What” you measure – shifting long-term interests? 

Major disruptors have a way of creating challenges and opportunities, but rarely as aggressively as 2020. While many suppliers and towns are looking forward to a return to “normal,” others see this as an opportunity to drive change and address long-standing challenges like workforce housing, community relations, over-visitation or differentiation, to their competitive advantage.

Some of what was important in 2019 – generating foot traffic in a particular part of a town, for example – is still important, but may be lower on the list in 2021. Shifting away from volume in favor of exclusivity, visitor infrastructure in favor of local lifestyle, lodging tax in favor of workforce housing or any one of a dozen other shifts, are all initiatives destinations may identify that will require new ways to measure success.

Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG, and a co-founder of Insights Collective, suggests that resorts may pivot towards “looking at residents’ satisfaction with tourism as it’s currently delivered, making sure it truly benefits all segments of the community.” Ralf Garrison, founder of the Collective, has another approach, but perhaps to the same end, suggesting there’s an opportunity for suppliers and destinations to be more selective in “identifying the type of visitors that are most compatible with the destination.”

Local satisfaction vs. visitor compatibility

In the first instance, we’re adding Resident Satisfaction to the things being measured, while the Garrison approach compels you to identify and measure traits of consumers before they arrive, then refine, repeat and measure again. As an aside, and not to diminish the targeting efforts of destination marketing organizations, while many are engaged in some version of that exercise, visitor traits have most often been driven by price and access rather than premeditation.

In a quantitative example, Bill Wishowski, director of operations at the Breckenridge Tourism Office, says “focusing on room nights (instead of occupancy) has become a higher priority for us as the number of available units has changed year-over-year” an example of getting in front of changes to second-homeowner and rent-by-owner markets by measuring differently.

The travel industry has largely measured success as revenue gained through price since the Great Recession, but is also something of a victim of that success. There are compelling reasons to measure recovery and trajectory in terms of a return to normal. But there are equally compelling reasons to embrace changing consumer, resident and societal dynamics to measure success in new ways, something mountain travel professionals have proven themselves more than capable in the past twelve months.


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. www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com 

Drivers on the Road to Recovery: Vaccinations, Vacations and Visitor Values

This Illustrative Example demonstrates how resort communities might characterize visitor types based on their Visitor Fit Factor.
Source: Insights Collective Think Tank
Insights from Aspen & Snowmass

Keeping things safe for an anticipated travel boom

Tourism leaders in Aspen and Snowmass say they expect 2021 travel to rebound considerably. That also means making a concerted effort to keep both visitors and local residents safe and happy.

 “We know there is a direct correlation between vaccine announcements and consumer confidence to travel,” says Eliza Voss, Vice President, Destination Marketing, with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “So vaccinations, coupled with pent up demand, are absolutely influencing the desire to get back out and travel.”

 And much like the “Visitor Fit Factor” model, Voss says that the older “haves” have become a high priority for summer 2021 marketing.

 “Baby boomers, one of Aspen’s key demographics, were first in line to the vaccine and are eager to connect with friends and family, and we hope they consider Aspen as a destination for restorative multi-generational travel,” she says.

 To expedite a safe season, Voss says visitor education remains front and center.

 “ACRA’s role as a destination management organization during this time of transition is to educate, with programs like ‘How to Aspen,’ and manage expectations for our guests this summer,” she says. “Economic recovery is tied to public health, and so we will continue to work alongside our public health officials and business owners to ensure success on both sides and create an environment for Aspen to thrive.”

Snowmass encourages longer summertime stays

Rose Abello, Director of Snowmass Tourism, says Snowmass is working hard to take advantage of pent-up consumer demand for travel, as well as encouraging visitors to consider longer stays as a more pleasant setting for their continued work-from-home arrangements.  

 “Consumer confidence for travel is at a 12-month high, with 87% of those surveyed saying they have a trip planned in the next 6 months,” she says. “In addition, we believe that more and more people are going to take advantage of the flexibility to work from ‘home’ to plan longer stays – possibly with extended family. To appeal to these visitors we are tweaking our advertising campaign to include the line ‘this summer, summer in Snowmass.’” 

 Abello also reiterates Snowmass’s commitment to public safety.  

“State and local health officials are working diligently to balance easing restrictions with keeping our communities safe and economies vibrant,” she says. “In Snowmass we are planning events and activations that will scale to the public health orders/restrictions while still creating fun and engagement for locals and visitors alike.”

Listen to the accompanying podcast from Ralf Garrison and Insights Collective here


Our first article in this Road to Recovery series established that vacation demand is strong. Seemingly everyone is thinking about vacation travel, and the Inntopia/DestiMetrics data shows that advanced bookings are strong, particularly for end-of-season visitation.

But COVID-19 and its variants also love to go traveling. They are spread by congregation and are full of surprises, and demand our respect and careful consideration. “Infections are trending upwards in most states, and several, including Colorado, reported increases of more than 30%,” according to Washington Post reports. Dr. Fauci cautions that we have not turned the corner but are approaching the intersection.

As summer season approaches, community leaders face tough decisions as they contemplate who, how and when to invite visitors back. It’s all in an ongoing effort to strike a balance between the safety of pandemic protocols and the benefits of economic liberation. The CDC is currently advising against non-essential travel, but promising imminent guidance, according to CDC Director Dr. Wilensky. 

So now what? The Insights Collective took on the subject, from which I offer the following synopsis.

A destination-centric shift

Traditional destination tourism promotion has been largely based on marketplace demand but then the concept of “over-tourism” emerged and COVID-19 considerations accelerated, creating a distinct local-resident-centric perspective. Travel Weekly’s Jeri Clausing writes: “some… tourism economies are pushing back on attempts to return to the status quo and advance tourism management… with an emphasis on more local input and control.” Not a new concept, but easier said than done.

Now, with the prospects of what one community leader called “more demand than we know what to do with,” there may be a unique opportunity to be more selective: identifying, inviting and hosting the type of visitors that are most compatible with the character and values of local and part time residents. Let’s call it the “Visitor Fit Factor.”

To illustrate, we’ve segmented prospective visitors by typology to demonstrate how it might work and why it matters:

1. HAVES: Those already vaccinated – over 70% of those over 65, and over 50 million who have completed vaccination per CDC at writing, plus many more with natural immunity – are all injected with a sense of liberation and impunity about travel. Our Think Tank destination experts Carl Ribaudo and Brian London expect Baby Boomers (born 1948-1964) to lead the way and emerge as the preferred target guest for many discerning destinations.

2. HAVE-NOTS: Interested but not yet vaccinated, much of the U.S. population is still in queue, but as per Dr. Fauci, “anyone who wants one (vaccination) should be able to get one by May.” Mostly mid-life and younger population (Gen X, Y, Millennials), this has been the most active emerging market segment for travel in recent past, and likely will be again in the future. For now, eager to travel and anointed with the hubris of youth, some Have-Nots are demonstrating conflicting values and generating friction with local residents in some markets – the coastal spring break news being a recent case in point.

3. WON’T/DON’T: A significant portion of the U.S. population does not intend to become vaccinated – as many as 30% of all Americans, per National Institute for Health estimates – but have already been traveling and intend to continue. This WON’T/DON’T typology is not age specific, appears to have overriding interest in freedom of choice, distrust of science and government, and follows political influence that trumps any concern for personal welfare or the greater good. As such, they could be least likely to be in sync with the values of their destination residents, and subsequently earn the lowest Visitor Fit Factor.

While all three visitor typologies demonstrate strong marketplace demand for travel, the wellbeing and compatibility with their destination community residents means their Visitor Fit Factor varies widely. And so should be the priority as resort leaders determine who, when and how to restart tourism promotional efforts going forward. 

At stake is not just the ability to defend against a spring 2021 spike in COVID-19 infections in the short term, but longer-term local sentiment about the future of a tourism-based economy down the road.

The least compatible may be the most likely visitors

Ironically, absent strong leadership and a premeditated, inclusive policy on what, when and who to target, visitors will make travel decisions based on their own preferences. The result could be counterproductive, with more business from the least compatible visitor types, and even less business from those most attractive and compatible, who have the highest Visitor Fit Factor.

The road to recovery is neither smooth nor straight, with curves, potholes, road closures and detours, especially for those who are not clear about their final destination, haven’t thought out their route map or lose their way along the path.

While the challenges are steep, the pandemic has brought with it a silver lining: a unique opportunity to emerge with a clear road map to a new reality and more sustainable future for all. The war against the pandemic is global, but this battle will be waged, won or lost locally.

About Insights Collective

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. www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com

What does tourism look like this summer?

Data shows that travel bookings arriving in the market within 90 days go up when infection rates decrease, and go down when infection rates are on the rise. (Source: Inntopia)
About Insights Collective

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. www.TheInsightsCollective.com  /  info@theinsightscollective.com

The Collective’s Resource Center is comprised of its founding members, each a specialist in their own right

Jane Babilon, Lodging Research Consultant
Dave Belin,  RRC Associates
Chris Cares,  RRC Associates
Barb Taylor Carpender, Taylored Alliances.
Tom Foley,   Inntopia/DestiMetrics
Ralf Garrison,  Advisory Group of Denver
Brian  London.  London Tourism Publications
Carl Ribaudo, SMG Consulting
Susan Rubin Stewart, Contact Center Consultant
Jesse True,  True Consulting

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to feel like it is subsiding, given the decreases in infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths, combined with the rapid increase in vaccinations, thoughts in the tourism industry focus on returning to a pre-pandemic normal. Many tourism destinations, attractions, lodging, restaurant providers, recreation providers and retail stores – as well as residents and local governments – are asking (or at least thinking), what will tourism look like this summer?

Yes, the conventional wisdom view is that there is significant pent-up consumer demand for travel. And as the COVID-19 vaccination numbers continue to climb, that in turn will unleash increased visitation on tourism destinations across the country. But as I have learned, conventional wisdom is often not conventional or wise. Let us consider the following.

Across the country, there is evidence that the lodging industry is picking up. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Smith Travel Research reported hotel occupancy for the week ending March 6 was 49% nationally, the highest it has been since October.” Additionally, the same article reported the Transportation Security Administration saw 1.36 million people pass through airport security checkpoints on Friday, March 12 alone, the most in an entire year. Leisure travel has now become the driver in the industry as many analysts concur that the more financially impactful business travel will be slow to recover, perhaps waiting until COVID-19 herd immunity is achieved. It remains to be seen when major corporate customers will be back to pre-pandemic levels.

From a mountain tourism destination perspective, the past year has given us several insights. First, despite the pandemic, demand for outdoor recreation-based destinations was substantial. These destinations, be they located in the mountains, on the coast or in the desert, did very well in terms of visitation. Consumers looked to escape the claustrophobia of city locations and find relief from the limits of COVID-19 on the hiking or biking trail, the ski run or just by being outside. The consensus view of the Insights Collective:

“That mountain destinations will see a continued level of visitation because of the interest in outdoor recreation. This level of visitation would be similar to last summer. In some cases, even greater demand as more people become vaccinated, mask mandates expire and people feel confident traveling again. The Insights Collective also expects fall visitation to be a strong at mountain destinations for the same reasons.”

This view is supported by some recent data from Inntopia that may give some insight into consumer behavior. In the short term, that might lead to more mountain destination travel demand over the summer and fall. According to Tom Foley, Senior Vice President with Inntopia and an Insight Collective member, “There have been two lead indicators through this pandemic. The first is infection rates, with bookings arriving within 90 days going up when infection rates go down, and vice-versa, as seen on the chart. The second – and more exciting – is a direct correlation between first-time vaccinations and bookings, with bookings arriving within 90 days almost directly mirroring the patterns of vaccine doses administered across the country.” Foley also added, “While this doesn’t mean that only vaccinated people are booking, what it strongly infers is that society is responding to vaccinations, both with vaccinated persons planning immediate travel, and with non-vaccinated persons feeling more confident (for better or worse) that much of the threat is behind us and following suit.” As the vaccination trend takes hold, it appears consumers are trading the long-term planned trip for a more spontaneous one within the next several months – a clear sign of confidence and interest in booking travel.

Despite these positive indicators both nationally and in mountain tourism destinations, there could be some hiccups. There are several trends to keep an eye on that may impact travel to mountain tourism destinations. First could be the slow resumption of youth activities, including everything from summer camps to swimming lessons, which could curtail family travel and keep some parents and families closer to home. Second and more troubling would be issues related to a national failure to reach herd immunity. One could imagine a scenario as the initial surge in vaccinations gives way to holdouts and deniers, both of which are already showing up in the media. Could this enable COVID-19 variants an opportunity to flourish and force further restrictions? A final trend to keep an eye on could be economic challenges that hold back consumer confidence. Some 9.4 million jobs have been lost since the pandemic began. There’s also the possibility of inflation impacting the $1.3 trillion consumers have in savings, as well as the additional $1.9 trillion in stimulus making its way into the economy. And there’s increased interest rates – all factors which suppress travel.

Our view: Be optimistic, but be cautious.

Local leaders in both Aspen and Snowmass are planning to take that approach for the season ahead.

“Snowmass properties are telling us that there is strong early demand for summer already,” said Rose Abello, tourism director for Snowmass. “We anticipate a combination of longer stays booked farther in advance along with the continuation of demand for last minute bookings.” 

Abello says Snowmass Tourism will continue to plan a series of events and activations for visitors and locals alike, shifting as needed when state, county and local regulations change.

“The great news is that what the Valley offers — wide open spaces, access to the outdoors, a great variety of dining, shopping and more – should continue to resonate with travelers and provide some level of resiliency with fluctuating restrictions,” she said. 

Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, says ACRA is cautiously optimistic for summer, but plans to remain nimble in order to pivot as public health guidelines may dictate.

“There is certainly pent-up demand for summer, particularly from those that have been fully vaccinated and are interested in resuming some leisure activities with family and friends they may not have seen for a year,” Voss said. “Many arts & cultural organizations are planning for in person programming albeit with reduced capacity and necessary protocols in place, but we are thrilled at the idea of live music & theater.”

When it comes to exploring the outdoor recreation that Aspen has to offer, Voss said ACRA’s messaging will focus on education and sustainability, highlighting the best ways to explore these natural assets while preserving them for many years to come.

Complete destinations: Not Just Skiing

Skiers and snowboarders expect to behave differently this winter — more midweek downhill skiing and off-mountain outdoor activities, less eating in restaurants and shopping in stores.
About ACRA

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association is a destination management organization focusing our work in sustainable tourism around dispersion, education and communication. As stewards of the destination,and as members of the local community, the ACRA destination management work is mindful, focused on generating harmony between quality of life for the resident and maintaining economic vitality to ultimately create an environment for Aspen to thrive. To learn more visit aspenchamber.org/about/data-center/reports-surveys/2020-tourism-outlook.

Successful towns and cities all over the world strive to improve the quality of life for residents, which in turn often makes these locations attractive for visitors and second-home owners. One of the keys to that success is collaborative partnerships between different entities, both public and private, toward a common goal. 

The maturation of tourism economies in many towns in the West has represented an evolution from a one-trick pony (ski resort only) to a vibrant, complete destination with activities, attractions and facilities for a wide variety of visitors and residents. The diversity of restaurants, cultural offerings, retail shopping and outdoor activities represents a potent draw for tourism.

While many COVID-related challenges exist, creative new partnerships between visitors’ bureaus, local governments, private foundations, citizens and other entities have quickly emerged to offer new and different activities to visitors, to communicate effectively to keep visitors safe, and to develop innovative new programs that support local businesses. These dynamics are an extension of the trend of mountain communities becoming complete destinations, appealing to many different types of visitors for different reasons. 

New amenities for visitors and locals

Getting outside has never been more popular. This summer, national park visits set records, bike and sporting goods retailers reported empty shelves and racks, and even Hershey’s chocolate sales were up from more people making s’mores outside. The surge in the number of visitors seeking outdoor experiences is normally a welcome trend in mountain communities, but this winter obviously presents new and unique health and safety challenges.  

Steamboat Springs is addressing the anticipated demand for outdoor recreation head-on by creating two outdoor ice-skating rinks that will be free for all skaters. The temporary rinks are being built on top of existing tennis courts, which already have lights for after-dark tennis play. Usage of the rinks will be free for residents and visitors alike, and the new, innovative facility is funded primarily by private individuals and business sponsors. 

“In a time where indoor capabilities are limited and public opportunities are scarce, we’re able to create unique recreation opportunities for the community,” the City of Steamboat Springs Parks & Recreation Director Angela Cosby said in a recent press release.

The new skating rinks in Steamboat are one of many non-downhill activities available in the community, which contributes to a well-rounded winter economy and makes Steamboat Springs an even more attractive place to visit. The broader offering of different activities not only makes resort towns more appealing to a wider range of visitors, but also enhances the quality of life for existing residents. 

“Beyond skiing, you can ride fat bikes on groomed trails, go horseback riding, ice fishing, dog sledding and even learn to drive in icy conditions. As always, relaxing in hot springs is a unique winter experience,” commented Laura Soard, Marketing Director of the Steamboat Springs Chamber. 

Support for Local Restaurants

When it comes to what SKI Magazine calls “Down Day Activities,” dining and retail shopping are two important elements in the mix. Many restaurants that were able to offer outdoor seating this summer will transition to a greater share of take-out and delivery meals this winter. Indeed, it is likely that winter visitors will want to “dine out,” but do so more safely at their condo or hotel suite. 

With the shift to delivery, restaurants are absorbing the fees that third-party delivery apps charge to deliver the meals to customers. One way to address this increased cost is a new restaurant grant program from the City of Boulder. The city is using a portion of the federal CARES funding to pay the restaurant portion of third-party delivery fees, which will allow restaurants to retain more of the profit on the sale of delivery meals. 

“Communities lose vibrancy, character and precious tax revenues when restaurants close down. Everyone loses,” said Sean Maher, CEO of RRC Associates. “This program will help struggling small businesses survive during the winter season, when outdoor dining is limited, and customers are nervous about eating inside.” 

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

Non-Downhill Outdoor Activities

When ski resorts shut down in mid-March, backcountry skiing and touring quickly became a popular alternative activity. That popularity is expected to continue this winter, given the sales figures for backcountry gear of all kinds. 

“We’ve seen some big orders this fall from retailers, especially for our lower price-point products,” noted Bruce Edgerly, vice-president and co-founder of Backcountry Access. “Other retailers have moved up their pre-season order ship dates. Given this high demand for snow safety equipment, it’s likely we’ll see some new participants and greater overall usage in the backcountry this season.”

Other on-snow activities are likely to be popular as well, especially among non-skiers. If the surge in interest for hiking and biking this summer is any indication, then tubing, Nordic skiing, ice skating, fat biking and snowshoeing will likely be in high demand. 

“At both ski areas and elsewhere, we anticipate an enormous interest in getting outside this winter. The dual challenge of pent-up ‘cabin fever’ during COVID and an ongoing recession, will make lower-cost options like sledding and snowtubing an incredibly popular and affordable option,” said Dave Byrd, Director of Risk and Regulatory Affairs at National Ski Areas Association.

Communication and safety

For all of these activities, it will be important to communicate not only their availability, but also the rules and limitations on certain trails to keep all users safe, particularly newcomers to winter outdoor recreational activities. Communication about current health orders, trail closures or modifications to trail usage will all be essential topics to push out to the public this winter. 

Resort apps and social media are great ways to push messages to visitors in town. Additionally, emails and websites are proven communication technologies that resort visitors are accustomed to using to get information 

“Articles in local media and local radio/TV are key outlets for communicating with visitors and locals alike,”Byrd said. “For example, in terms of guests looking to go sledding on their own, enhanced signage, clear rules of when/where sledding or tubing is allowed, and security policing areas like golf courses, parks and easy-access hillsides will be important to keeping our visitors safe.”

Preparing for Resilience

Fostering the diversity of the resort economy, working to support local businesses, keeping visitors informed and safe, and evolving into a complete destination are long-term evolutionary trends in mountain communities. In the current COVID environment, communities that work together, think creatively, and react quickly will have greater resilience and a better chance for continued success.


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 www.theinsightscollective.com.