The above headline represents a real comment the General Manager of Jay Peak Resort in Vermont received from a guest who was protesting the resort’s requirement that he wear a face-covering in areas with other guests around. We note it here, as this type of griping unfortunately represents what many travel and hospitality professionals frequently deal with when trying to simply enforce basic pandemic safety protocols. Ski resorts and destinations, many of whom received record numbers of visitors on their mountains this summer and are now in the midst of a busy beginning of their snow season, are some of the most versed in operations and visitor communications in the pandemic. During our webinar on December 1st, our President and CEO, Erin Francis-Cummings, interviewed a panel of ski industry professionals and ski destination marketers about their outlook for the current ski season and what the greater travel industry can learn from their experiences. Read on for the great insights they shared and watch the full panel discussion here:
While some ski resorts are already packed, visitation to snow destinations will be uneven across the country this season due to differing local mandates and travel restrictions. As Kelly Pawlak, the President and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association noted, skiers “are looking for the path of least resistance” and so destinations with more restrictive policies may be more significantly impacted this season.
While some ski areas may struggle with attracting visitors, all are working hard to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols to keep their workers and skiers safe. As Steve Wright, the President and General Manager at Jay Peak Resort, mentioned, he established and trained a special team on how to firmly, but respectfully enforce the COVID-19 safety protocols with guests by promoting the message of “making sure the ski season stays open for everybody.” It is a matter of establishing a culture of safety that everyone can buy into and help reinforce. Kelly compares the current struggle to enforce COVID-19 safety rules to the past struggle of enforcing a no smoking rule on the mountain. When smoking was banned at ski resorts, although it met its fair share of opposition initially, it eventually became an expectation and non-issue for guests.
In addition to ensuring the safety of local residents and tourists alike, ski and snowboard destinations must make diligent efforts to teach new visitors how to respect the outdoor space and be conscientious of the environment. As John Urdi, Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, shared, there was a massive increase in visitors to Mammoth Lakes this past summer who came to camp, yet these visitors weren’t attuned to the culture of keeping the outdoor space clean.
Big Sky capitalized on a tremendous public-private partnership to fund and implement an on-site testing program, marking a monumental achievement in coordination, planning and cooperation in the name of keeping visitors safe. Candace Carr Strauss, the CEO of Visit Big Sky, shared that “[their] focus has been safety first and adventure second.” A priority shift many destination marketers have had to make as the health crisis wears on.
While potential workforce shortages and finding housing solutions for seasonal staff continue to be challenges, another pandemic-related issue snow destinations and ski resorts are now facing is employee health and wellness. “This is something everybody is going to have to focus more on this year” according to Kelly. Workers are under an immense amount of stress in the COVID-era and extra resources are needed to help mitigate stresses, such as daily employee wellness checks and extra testing availability.
One cardinal lesson for other destinations, and all of us, is the importance of respect and collaboration. From empowering employees to enforce health and safety mandates, to positive reinforcement by thanking visitors for wearing masks, respect and collaboration are key to outlasting COVID-19. In the words of Candace, “Collaboration is king is what we’ve learned from COVID…we come together and work together to support the visitor industry.”