COVID has been catastrophic to human welfare, public health and many jobs. The pandemic shutdown devastated much of the travel industry, which is only just showing signs of recovery. Estimates are that there was $2 trillion in lost revenue to hotel chains, airlines and others over the past two years. According to the World Travel Organization international tourist arrivals declined globally by 73 percent in 2020, with about a billion fewer travelers.
However, segments of the hospitality sector experienced a somewhat surprising lift in services. Resorts at the higher end travel market experienced a notable bump during the pandemic. As well-heeled clients became unable to travel around the world visiting medically exposed locations, they turned to upscale resorts in the United States.
Last year I was invited to visit several travel destinations as a medical professional and public health educator. I was initially surprised that some of the more exclusive resorts were completely full (and had long wait lists) at a time when other hotels were temporarily shuttering. I took to talking to the managers of top flight destinations in order to understand how their resorts and spas could be doing so much better then the rest of the industry. The answer became apparent. As people were experiencing cabin-fever, some had the means and ability to pay for both exclusivity and medical safety.
For instance I had the chance to visit the beautiful and secluded Taylor River Lodge in Almont, Colorado. It is an impressive and exclusive location that hosts former baseball players alongside hedge fund investors. The resort was started by a young billionaire who also owns a group of high end destinations. It offers both summer and winter activities including guided fly fishing in some of the best rivers in Colorado under the guise of luxury with adventure.
The Beaverkill Valley Inn hidden in the Catskills town of Livingston, NY is a rustic destination that became a retreat for well-to-do travelers. It was fully booked during the pandemic summer seasons as families seeking both comfort and safety extended their time away from urban homes. The Inn was originally owned by David Rockefeller as part of his legendary effort to preserve thousands of acres in upstate New York. Nearby streams are said to have been the birthplace of American fly fishing. The inn’s managers told me that many of their regular guests stayed in the country setting as an extended escape from the city and shifted to working remotely.
Hotel management worked to accommodate medical needs and address concerns about travel during the pandemic. According to the inkeepers, early in the pandemic these resorts implemented strict requirements including screening and sanitization. They also stayed in very close communication with guests to keep everyone well informed.
Taylor River Lodge experienced a boost during the summer of 2020 and also into the 2021 season when many other resorts were having trouble. This can be understood since the lodge calls itself an off-the-grid hideout and is a collection of luxury cabins. It was an attractive option to people to rent out cabins for extended times to feel safe bringing their families together. Management received requests to reserve the entire resort including all cabins for extended family escapes during the pandemic.
Despite the virtual collapse of the travel industry last year with over a billion jobs at risk, groups such as high and ultra high net worth individuals were more eager than ever for secluded and safe travel. According to analysis, luxury rentals in exotic locations were extended by 25% on average. Additionally, personal transportation including private jets became seen as the norm for safe travel. Despite restrictions, these groups were able to find exclusive vacation destinations and rented for longer times.