Happy New Years, folks. I hope it finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy, and more hopeful about the future. 2020 was a wild ride. I wrote the first issue of Here & There in January of last year, with no idea how the world was about to drastically change.
25 issues later, I want to revisit a few of the predictions I had back in March, and see where we’re at now, with a more deadly second wave of COVID in full swing and a new covid variant in the picture.
One thing just want to re-iterate that I want this newsletter to be a two-way street: If you read something that you enjoy, hate, or brings up other interesting questions you think I should dive into, hit reply and let me know. It’s my plan to re-focus H&T a bit more on outdoor/travel news, inspiration, and analysis and less on personal updates moving forward.
Tourism-based economies will be hit hard
It was a mixed bag for tourism and outdoor recreation this year. After lockdowns in March and April, there was a tremendous surge of interest in outdoor recreation (particularly camping and RVing) as cooped up people sought escape. Many categories of outdoor gear sold out or were back-ordered for significant periods of time.
Even with a surge of local activity in the summer/fall, restrictions on dining, lodging and international travel continue to pose a massive issue for tourism-based towns going forward, and with a struggling vaccine rollout and a new variant in the picture, that looks unlikely to change soon.
International visitors typically compose upwards of 36% of visitors to our National Park system.
In Utah, National Park visits were down 25%, but international visits were down a whopping 85% — and these types of visitors tend to spend more and stay longer. However, strong fall visitation from nearby states was a boon for many businesses.
Local hospitality near Yosemite was down an estimated 55% during the pandemic. Overall visits for our 5th most visited NP are down almost 50%.
In Alaska, where 1 in 10 jobs are tourism-related, over 1.3 million (booked) cruise-ship travelers didn’t end up visiting.
Some parks still felt more crowded than usual, likely due to an increase in road-tripping visitors vs tour groups (less people, but more cars)
While some state and federal parks saw increased visitation as folks sought the outdoors, long-term funding is still at risk. Many parks are funded through tourism taxes. For example, in Hawaii, local residents don’t pay for entry and out-of-state user fees went from over $500k a month to zero overnight. In others, limited capacity due to covid restrictions reduced revenues by $1M dollars.
Ski resorts are open, and companies like Vail actually sold *more* season passes than last year (although with flat revenue due to 2019/20 season credits). While it seems like resorts will remain open, they’re still in for a challenging season financially with reduced capacity and a lack of international travel. A slow start to the snow in key markets like CO and Utah certainly won’t help.
The backcountry could get crowded
This definitely panned out. It’s early season still for 2020/21, but there seems no doubt that there are way more folks in the backcountry — both from anecdotal observations and BC gear sales.
Snowsports Industries America estimates there were 1.357 million backcountry skiers and riders during the 2019-20 season — it’s by far the fastest growing snowsports segment.
Retailers are seeing record sales of backcountry gear, some with 100% increases over last year.
Touring boot sales were up 34% for the 2019/20 season, and sales of backcountry accessories (beacons, probes, etc) were up 53% YOY in March 2019.
Bluebird Backcountry (a new backcountry only ski area) sold out their 500 season passes almost immediately.
AIARE courses are sold out around the country, which I suppose is both a good and bad thing.
Here in Colorado we already have 4 avalanche deaths this season, and with a snowpack that is the worst since 2011, one hopes that increased backcountry recreation won’t lead to a historic year for deaths and accidents.
Destinations will need to re-evaluate marketing campaigns
Re-evaluate, layoff, and pray might have been a more apt prediction. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) definitely shifted to local-based travel campaigns but unfortunately for many, this still wasn’t enough. Many local tourism orgs are funded by local lodging and tourism taxes…income streams which have been severely impacted by the crisis.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see significant consolidation and bankruptcies in the travel industry
This happened, and it didn’t. Some folks like Airbnb adapted incredibly well and proved resilient. Companies like Hipcamp and Outdoorsy saw *massive* surges (after initial lockdowns). They benefited from a surge in local escapes and interest in short-term rentals this summer/fall. Others, like Hertz, Avianca, Latam Airlines, and Ravn, which were more tied to airline travel, faltered.
43 commercial airlines went bankrupt or ceased operations this year, which is actually less than expected because of government bailout intervention.
WorldStrides, one of the top student-travel companies (running trips for over 500k students a year) both filed for and later emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year.
Many smaller-scale travel agencies closed their doors.
This will affect the influencer/creator industry
There’s no doubt that most of the money in travel-related content promotion has dried up — at least compared to 2019, which was a banner year for travel and influencer spend. But it wasn’t all bad.
Much of this content shifted to domestic, road-trip style content as international travel was largely shuttered, although there were definitely creators who grabbed bad press for continuing to travel.
Some influencers saw increases in engagement as audiences were sitting at home and seeking escape through social media.
Many sought to diversify their offerings, moving from largely project-based income (by working with DMOs and brands), and developing other offerings they can sell.
There’s been a huge increase in online courses on photography, travel planning, photo editing, etc. Instagram-focused creators have picked up YouTube, podcasts, and TikTok, and attempted to monetize their audiences in creative ways off traditional platforms.
I think it’s great that folks are diversifying, but it’s never a great overall sign for an industry when everyone starts selling “how to do X” instead of just “doing X”.
New things on the block
The Club by Allcall - COVID conscious trips & on-demand text recs.
Flexipass - Fully flexible travel credits for trips to every continent. A great idea for these travel operators to be involved in, especially given continued uncertainty.
Explorista - Curated videos to relax and explore the world from home.
That’s all for now! Hope y’all stay safe and healthy.
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