On its second anniversary, the COVID pandemic is anticipated by various news media to evolve into an endemic with a flu-like seasonal cycle. So, with fingers crossed, I’ll use this opportunity for a high-level recap of what’s been learned - borrowing from the Insights Collective think tank of scenarios – and some informed guesses about the possible legacy for resort communities, their visitors, and its residents.
With the declaration of the COVID pandemic, dramatic protocols were imposed, many businesses shuttered, and most of us began to shelter at home, forcing the process of learning to work, shop, educate, and entertain ourselves from home. Fast forward two years: many of us have adapted to remote work and learning foundation and the freedom and geographical independence that comes with it, the result being a dramatic shift in how Americans live, work, and play, and the corresponding freedom to choose where they do it, and an emerging sentiment that:
“ Work is no longer where you go, but rather what you do from wherever you choose to be”
Empowered by this new perspective and a workforce shortage, employees have newfound bargaining power to pursue their newfound lifestyles. Some of the implications to resort towns are:
Pent-up demand for vacation travel will likely increase as COVID fades but may shift; more flexibility means tourists can change when they travel to off-peak times, resulting in less crowding (read lift lines, traffic, parking, etc.), fewer environmental impacts, more balanced business for resorts, and a better guest experience all round. “We began seeing longer Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday stays immediately after reopening in 2020,” noted Tom Foley from Inntopia Business Intelligence. “And as work from home has normalized, those trends have continued, with length of stay up by as much as two nights in some cases.
In - Migration: “COVID Refugees,” characterized as geographically-independent urbanities often motivated by the perception of relative safety associated with smaller, rural resort communities, have been relocating to mountain communities at a pace that pales events like the real estate boom of 2007-08. And, powered by unexpected and significant increases in their investment and real estate assets these past two years, they can pay whatever the market bears, driving real estate prices to unprecedented levels.
Our new once-urban neighbors bring both benefits and challenges, including a “pillow fight” for housing, a shift toward from tourism to more permanent lifestyle/ retirement-centric communities, the welcome addition of younger, tech-savvy entrepreneurs and small businesses, and some indications of political activism that is likely to reshape the landscape. But this economic diversification from some appears to be at the expense of social and ethnic diversity for others.
Out-Migration: The downside corollary to In-Migration is the impact on the local residential workforce, particularly in the hospitality and service sectors, who are both beleaguered by unfavorable working conditions, and the highest inflation (7.9%) in 40 years. With a financial dependence on a local economy - which falls short of a living wage - and little chance to compete with urban in-migrants, the exodus to greener pastures impacts the ability of resorts ability to maintain service levels guests expect at the same time prices are soaring.
Local sentiment about in-migration appears mixed. “There is certainly a spectrum of opinions about how communities feel about the shifts in new residents. Some feel their community is welcoming, others do not, and most indicated a ‘double-edged sword,” commented Dave Belin, Director of Consulting Services at RRC Associates. Additionally, a better understanding and prospective solutions are needed around the increasing disparity between the financially independent “haves” and local economy-dependent “have nots”; already part of the sustainability and diversity conversations among public sector representatives in some communities, nascent in others.
In conclusion, It’s becoming increasingly clear that, while the COVID pandemic may be fading, the ensuing social and economic consequences will be enduring for some time. Well aware of these consequences, municipal officials and destination marketing and management organization are joining private sector businesses in a retooling from legacy demand generation to supply-side management and mitigation strategies. But results are not yet clear.
With a fundamental belief in laws of economics and the free market, I believe “things” will work themselves out over time and can be impacted by resort-community leaders, who can capitalize on opportunities to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones toward a stronger, more stable and sustainable future. While strategies will vary, we can all agree that sooner would be better than later; let’s hope the 3rd anniversary is better on all fronts and for all concerned.
About The Insights Collective
The Insights Collective is a not-for-profit collaboration of destination travel industry experts working together with mountain resort community stakeholders to understand, plan, and navigate the pandemic-influenced economy and its many unintended consequences