Survey: Vail, other resorts benefit from clear COVID protocols

Still, a majority of Colorado residents aren’t planning travel right now

Scott N. Miller, Vail Daily
Social distancing, mask-wearing and other COVID-19 protocols will be crucial as travel demand builds.
Daily file photo

Confidence in travel today is better than it was in October, but most state residents are still wary.

A survey released this week by AAA Colorado shows that a majority of state residents are uncomfortable traveling. Of the Colorado respondents in the 13-state survey, 39% said they took no vacation of three days or more in 2020. A similar number, 42%, say they aren’t planning a vacation of three days or more this year. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had cancelled travel plans in 2020.

The main concerns in the survey were fears of getting sick — 60% — and concerns about the number of new COVID-19 cases — 56%.

Of those who are planning to travel the vast majority — 84% — will travel by car.

But the survey has some good news for some destinations. Compared to a similar survey in October, 6% are more willing to travel now.

For those looking at destinations, 40% are more willing to visit a destination with a mask mandate.

Vail ‘in a good place’

Skyler McKinley, director of public relations and government affairs for AAA Colorado, said Vail and Eagle County “are in a good place” meshing with what travelers want. Vail has “demonstrated seriousness” with mask mandates and other steps, McKinley said.

The increased reliance on car trips can also help lodging.

Those who are driving, particularly those driving a long way, “might stay a while” when they arrive, McKinley said.

“If you’re driving two days, it’s not worth staying for three,” he added.

Tom Foley is the senior vice president of business processes and analytics for DestiMetrics Inntopia, a lodging research company. Foley said his company’s research shows that length of stay is increasing — albeit fractionally — across studied resorts.

Foley noted that drive distances for mountain resorts increased dramatically in 2020, from roughly 380 miles to about 900. The number now is about 750 miles, about double the distance recorded in 2019. The question, of course, is when leisure travel might return to something resembling previous levels. Both Foley and McKinley said they believe pent-up demand may start to release in the second or third quarter of this year.

And that demand could be robust.

Information is essential

“The floodgates are going to open,” McKinley said.

In the interim, though, people who travel want to know how a possible destination is handling the pandemic.

Vail Economic Development Director Mia Vlaar said all kinds of COVID-19 information is on the website. Those pages see just as much visitation as do the pages for dining and entertainment.

Those pages also lay out the town’s COVID-19 rules and expectations for both visitors and locals. And, Vlaar added, COVID protocols are part of the new promotion to encourage weekday visits.

That promotion also is trying to take advantage of the growing trend of booking lodging with shorter lead times.

In addition to the town’s protocols, Vlaar said Vail Resorts is doing “a tremendous job” communicating what’s expected of guests on the mountain.

“That’s incredibly important,” she said, adding that importance will continue as time goes on.

While there’s hope on the horizon that the pandemic will fade as more people are vaccinated, McKinley said at this point, people need to continue to take precautions.

McKinley himself hasn’t traveled much in the past several months. The exception was a quick December trip to Vail and a stay at the Sonnenalp.

“I was so impressed, not only by that property, but by the fact that everywhere I went in Vail, how seriously everyone took (the COVID protocols.”

In the coming months, “Folks are going to be going to be going to the places that took this seriously.”

By the numbers

Results from a AAA Colorado survey of state residents:

60%: Are concerned about getting sick.

44%: Will be more willing to travel once vaccinated.

40%: Are more likely to visit a destination with a mask mandate.

51%: Are driving less due to the pandemic.

Source: AAA Colorado.

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