After months of headwinds, economic trends are looking positive
Did you hear that? Listen closely: it’s the sound of good news, which we may be getting used to again.
Destination Analysts reports that as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline after their January peak, Americans’ optimism about the month ahead soared an additional 5 percentage points in the last week, reaching another record high. Now 44.2% feel the pandemic situation in the United States will improve over the next four weeks. Meanwhile, just 18.3% (a record low) feel the pandemic will get worse, after topping 55% at the start of the year.
Fortunately, the focus of the rapidly improving sentiment around travel is not just on its safety and accessibility, but true enthusiasm. When asked to use just one word to describe how they feel about travel right now, “excited” is what Americans largely cite. This feeling has become even more predominant since the start of the year and is in stark contrast to earlier periods of the pandemic in which fear and caution prevailed.
Feelings translate to actions. An incredible 83.5% of American travelers have at least tentative trip plans right now. The majority of Americans continue to believe they will be vaccinated from COVID-19 by this summer, which we see reflected in the timing of their trip plans, including a notable spike in July and consistency in the months following. And as each week more Americans have been vaccinated as well as know others who have, more trips in the short term appear. The proportions with trips planned for April and May have inched up over the last month (including for Easter and Spring Break). Well over half of American travelers will take a leisure trip within the next 3 months, taking 1.1 trips on average.
There are also plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about our local trends. For the first time in three months, DestiMetrics is reporting positive year-over-year gains in the booking pace for mountain vacations. Reservations taken in January 2021 for arrival in that same month, were up 42.9 percent compared to January 2020, while bookings for February arrivals based on January-only bookings were up 23.5 percent.
While national traveler sentiment and local booking trends certainly bode well, we’re also seeing positive momentum locally regarding disease trends and a loosening of restrictions. Eagle County moved to the yellow level of the state’s COVID-19 dial, which means there are less restrictive regulations for indoor dining and events. The transition to yellow means indoor capacity at restaurants will increase from 25% capacity to 50% capacity, and 50% capacity will be allowed for spectators at sporting events.
Eagle County is also accepting “5 Star” business applications to allow qualified venues to operate in a less restrictive COVID-19 Dial Level under current public health guidance. The county will be eligible to institute the program after the state approves the county’s request to do so, when there are 7 consecutive days of the COVID-19 incidence rate in the appropriate Dial Level.
With increased vaccinations, more relief payments going out, the possibility of additional relief coming, and (fingers crossed) a continuing decline in caseloads, there is reason for optimism, yet the high rates of disease spread are still impacting our local economy. We still have several more months of wearing masks, keeping physical distance and limiting large gatherings. After a year of headwinds, these precautions will support our economy by lowering disease spread and allowing us to take maximum advantage of the economic tailwinds and trends in the coming months.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com