COVID-19 was supposed to decimate the tourism industry in summer 2020. For lodging establishments it has been a mixed bag.

Mountain Travel Symposium on Aug. 12 hosted a webinar titled Recovery Road: A Look Inside Lodging. The panel consisted of Ben Day, director of sales and marketing for Blackcomb Springs Suites in Whistler, British Columbia; Ryan Rhoadarmer, director of market management with Expedia Group; Lance Syrett, general manager of Ruby’s Inn Inc. in Utah; and Bettina Zinnert, general manager of Wengen Classic Hotels in Switzerland.

Three-quarters of Expedia guests are concerned about cleanliness of hotel rooms. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Considering many believe the travel-tourism industry will help stimulate the global economy, keeping an eye on what is happening worldwide could be an indicator for places like Lake Tahoe-Truckee that depend almost solely on tourism, as well as California and Nevada as a whole. While the basin has been busier than a normal summer, to the point many locals are complaining about the degradation of popular sites, abundance of trash not in cans, and shoulder-to-shoulder non-mask wearing people on sand and asphalt, it doesn’t mean fall and winter are going to be this busy. Today people in cities and suburbia want to get away from their homes, and Tahoe has wide-open spaces. When the temperatures drop and outdoor dining no longer sounds appealing, it’s possible the basin could be a ghost town.

Rhoadarmer with Expedia said a recent study showed nearly half of the people in the United States are interested in a mountain or lake destination, surmising they want to be some place with room to roam. But what he couldn’t answer is what that desire for mountain-lake travel is in a non-COVID year, so the statistic only worked as an interesting soundbite.

Expedia in July saw travelers searching for trips in August increase by 30 percent week over week. For September it’s a 25 percent increase. This shows a growing interest in travel. Rhoadarmer said it’s most important for hoteliers to know where travelers are coming from so they can market to them as well as cater to their needs upon arrival.

Syrett oversees 700 hotel rooms in Utah at a three-season resort. This time of year he is normally at 100 percent occupancy. Today he’s at 45 percent, with a rate that is 40 percent of year’s past. As the closest lodging to Bryce Canyon National Park, it has always been a popular destination with international travelers. With flights canceled, so went the room reservations. To compensate, the Ruby’s Inn group began marketing to neighboring states.

One thing the company is doing is diving deeper into data it collects as well as what it has access to from partners like Expedia. The company in 2019 had about 4 percent same-day bookings, while this year it is at 23 percent. Last year 80 percent of guests stayed one night, while this summer that figure is 59 percent. This means there are longer stays.

For Zinnert in Switzerland she said being flexible is key. With business travel no longer existing she turned the resort’s business space into a co-working space “so you get the home office in the mountains.” Normally a quarter of their business is U.S. travelers, and they are nowhere to be found this season.

While flexibility is key, she said she would never implement a policy where guests could cancel at any time. That doesn’t allow for proper staffing, having restaurants be stocked appropriately, and planning other needs of a lodging property. Zinnert said their marketing people keep an eye on what is going on in other countries; as in would people have to quarantine after traveling to Switzerland. If so, that’s probably not a good fit. She admits she is fortunate with Switzerland having few COVID cases and the government being proactive.

For Day at the Whistler property, July was strong with locals from the Vancouver area. “Fifty-seven percent of bookings in the last week arrived within seven days. It’s hard for housekeeping to put a scheduled out weeks in advance,” he said.

What he is looking at now is how dismal the bookings are for winter. “The advance interest for winter is very small,” Day said. “Winter is going to be extremely scary. We don’t know if it will be just British Columbia, down into the States or from anywhere.”

Few countries are allowing people from the United States in because COVID-19 cases keep rising here.

The hoteliers participating in the webinar said deals are necessary—like a local/regional rate, and incentivizing rebookings. Showing off families in a pool, while maintaining social distancing is critical. Touting cleanliness is imperative. People want to know about outdoor spaces. Educating and training staff about new protocols is key. So is modeling proper behavior—distancing and staff wearing masks so guests will do the same.

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