Creating positive wins for mountain destination marketers
What you ought to know: The holy grail of travel patterns
Brought to you by Sierra Sun and The Insights Collective
The Insights Collective is a pandemic economy think tank, established as a platform for the exchange of information, best practices, collective wisdom and the application of scientific evidence where available. Founded by Ralf Garrison, the Insights Collective’s objective is to leverage its resources to provide insights and actionable recommendations to public and private sector decision makers in leisure travel destinations.
The Insights Collective is composed of the following tourism industry experts, with a combined 250 years of experience:
Ralf Garrison, Advisory Group
Chris Cares, RRC & Associates
Tom Foley, Inntopia
Carl Ribaudo, SMG Consulting
Brian London, London Tourism Publications
Jesse True, True Mountain Consulting
Susan Rubin-Steward, SRS Consulting
Barb Taylor Carpender, leisure travel specialist
Jane Babilon, leisure travel specialist.
For decades, as weekends have reached maximum practical capacity, mountain destination marketers have been looking for ways to spread visitation across midweek and lengthen stay duration, what one calls “the holy grail” of travel consumer patterns.
And now, with consumer behavior shifting both by economic circumstance and emotion, that holy grail is edging nearer at an increasingly faster rate with each passing month.
Monitoring booking behavior at some 1,700 of Inntopia partner properties primarily across mountain destination resorts, the two trends of the holy grail — midweek and longer off-peak stays — are emerging organically as consumers adjust to the new realities of more flexible work or school schedules, while also looking to uncrowd their travel experience.
Length of stay at mountain community lodging properties began to increase in earnest in June, with the average reservation arriving in that month staying 0.14 nights longer. While that number may not sound like much to the non-lodging operator, it’s an extra 1.4 nights of revenue for every 10 nights booked when applied over time; real numbers that add up.
And, though occupancy across those properties in June was down 57% year-over-year, the boost in the average length of stay in that month was the first hint that the market was changing.
EXTENDING THE WEEKEND
The June trend has increased in each subsequent month as consumers find new ways to take advantage of time and space, and marketers recognize the opportunity.
Length of stay was up:
- 0.23 nights in July (an extra 2.3 nights for every 10).
- 0.29 nights in August (an extra 2.9 nights for every 10).
- 0.33 nights in September (an extra 3.3 nights for every 10).
Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, said that Covid-19 “creates potential for mountain communities to drive mid-week business as schools around the country are under remote learning and many businesses across the country experience remote working.”
Look more closely at the data by day-of-week, and it becomes clear that the varying changes in length of stay are reflecting changing attitudes toward not only what a weekend or weekday is, but whether or not a crowd is desirable as part of a vacation.
Here’s a look at length of stay increases for stays based on the guests’ arrival day:
- Mondays, up 1.37 nights.
- Sundays, up 0.72 nights.
- Tuesdays, up 0.6 nights.
- Saturdays, up 0.45 nights.
A NEW PACE FOR VISITORS
Eliza Voss, director of marketing at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, is seeing the change and is planning for peaks and valleys to level a bit as a result.
“Typically, in a fall season we see peaks on weekends, driven by weddings and a typical work/school-week pattern. This fall, with the flexibility provided by both remote work and school, we are anticipating more of a steady stream across the week,” she said.
The shift doesn’t end there. Bookings scheduled to arrive on Wednesdays and Thursdays are each experiencing sharp declines in length of stay, with Wednesday arrivals for September 2020 typically staying 2.44 nights this year, down from 2.8 last year, while Thursday arrivals are only staying 1.84 nights, down from 2.47 in 2019.
These developments actually wind up taking the heretofore desirable peak night of Saturday out of play for those guests. Whether this is a reflection of consumers looking for an uncrowded experience or a lower room rate — a possibility as a result of some of the broader economic pressures on consumers — is not entirely clear just yet. But, according to Voss and Romer, it’s a long-sought desired state.
“Though the circumstances created by Covid 19 are out of our control, it’s actually dispersing the guest into a pattern we have long hoped to achieve,” Voss said, “by spreading out the visitation pattern and allowing guests to experience destinations on off-peak days and at their own pace.”
A SPOT OF BRIGHTNESS
This conversation is a lot broader than just lodging properties. Real changes in which days of the week consumers wish to travel to mountain communities, and their length of stay, will have real operational and fiscal consequences within the greater community if those changes are sustained.
Other service providers will have to look at historic staffing and systems protocols and adjust them accordingly to take advantage of the revenue opportunity. And at the jurisdictional level, there are considerations such as modified parking restrictions, transportation services, and health and safety services like police, fire, and sanitation.
With strong room rates coming out of summer, and now a lengthening of stays, the opportunity to mitigate revenue, and therefore tax, losses is one the industry will gladly embrace. And the chance to make a long hoped-for shift toward midweek and non-peak stays is a spot of brightness in challenging times that destination marketing organizations can build on.
“Creative packages and messaging to position our communities and properties as welcoming and accessible to these markets is an opportunity moving forward,” Romer said.
Tom Foley is the senior vice president of Analytics at Inntopia, a leader in travel technology, marketing and research.
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As COVID restrictions continue to rollback nationwide, tourism has started up again and is in full swing around Lake Tahoe.