Post-COVID Road Trip Research – Eyewitness Report
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. http://www.TheInsightsCollective.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
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.