Tourism was one of the most impacted industries due to COVID-19, but not every tourism destination was impacted in the same way. For the past year, I have been part of a tourism think tank in Colorado, working with a range of tourism researchers and consultants with an opportunity to see the impact of COVID 19 across the country. Here are some notable things we have learned.
· Rural tourism destinations were far more likely to see visitation and, in some cases, extreme levels of visitation. Consumers living in densely populated city areas were more likely to head to the outdoor destination. That created problems of crowding, trash, and traffic to unacceptable levels, which we experienced.
· Destinations with drive access/proximity markets saw strong visitation. In contrast, destinations with a higher percentage of visitors arriving by air saw a decline in visitation.
· In- migration to outdoor destinations. Many locations also experienced an increase in people buying houses and moving into the community. This real estate demand was the case in outdoor destinations across the west.
· With no physical work to be at on a Monday, there were changes in the demand patterns, including mid-week shopping, recreation use, and restaurant use/demand patterns.
· There were significant retail and restaurants' significant changes; more consumers shifted to online retail and took out or delivery services for dining. Those that were able to adjust were able to survive better than those that did not.
· Special events across the country were canceled, and, in many cases, visitors still showed up, begging the question of what special events will look like in the future or if they are needed at all.
· As housing across the country was snapped up by those looking to get out of a city and into a rural location, housing supply has become challenged. The impact on destinations is clear. As housing becomes more challenging and wage rates fail to keep pace with increasing costs, retaining employees becomes a challenge for local businesses.
But what have DMO's learned? It's a good question, consider the following:
· A need to adapt faster. Many DMO's were caught flat-footed and had to learn to pivot and a moment's notice. What became important was how agile an organization needs to be effective.
· A need to be more creative. DMO's learned they needed to be more creative. To switch to telling visitors about protocols in a creative way. As well, many needed new ideas and ways to remake their organization. Creativity is a DMO's most important asset.
· DMO's are understanding that residents now have a much bigger say in tourism. One of the biggest realizations might have been how residents have learned to insert themselves into tourism in many destinations that have found their voice and will influence tourism policy through political means.
With all of these changes, we have experienced perhaps the most exciting bit of insight is. No matter whatever your destination's strengths and flaws were before, COVID-19 accelerated everything. Every issue, from crowding to housing to participating in outdoor recreation, has been accelerated. What does that mean? Destinations need to find solutions faster than ever before.