Drivers on the Road to Recovery: Vaccinations, Vacations and Visitor Values
Everyone wants to travel, but not all visitors are the same
Brought to you by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and The Insights Collective
A common-sense approach to an unenviable task
Steamboat Springs travel designer Heidi Theis doesn’t envy the local officials tasked with having to balance community safety with the economic importance of tourism. But she does suggest a “common sense approach” as increased vaccinations foster confidence in traveling to communities like Steamboat.
“If you are going to restrict your own community residents, it’s fair to expect the tourists coming to your community to follow the same guidelines. How to enforce that is a challenge. But to not enforce those guidelines doesn’t go over well with the people who contribute to the community year-round.”
Theis is the “chief compass setter” at Benvenuto Travel Design Firm, formerly known as Steamboat Reservations and Travel. She specializes in helping time-starved people manage their travel by creating customized experiences — “nothing off the shelf or anything you can find on the internet.”
The race of vacation demand is on … so book early
As vaccination rates increase and people tire of being constrained for more than a year, Theis is seeing greater confidence in travel. That has created pent-up demand that contrasts with restrictions on hotel occupancies, airlines cutting routes and regional differences in vaccinations and health protocols worldwide.
“There’s less supply in every aspect, but the demand is huge,” she said. “It’s almost like the starting gate at a horse race.”
Theis said that while the pandemic has inflicted massive damage to the tourism industry, there is an upside for consumers: many airlines, lodging companies and other tourism operators have added flexibility to their booking and cancellation policies. That should give anxious travelers reassurance to commit now, particularly when bookings into 2023 are already filling up, she said.
“My No. 1 piece of advice is don’t wait to book, with all the easy cancellation policies,” Theis said. “If you wait, you may find that you can’t get what you want.”
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 still 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.
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 / email@example.com
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