COVID has pushed upscale travel to safe (and exclusive) places

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COVID has been catastrophic for human well-being, public health, and many jobs. The pandemic shutdown has devastated much of the travel industry, which is only showing signs of recovery. There has been an estimated $2 trillion in lost revenue for hotel chains, airlines and others over the past two years. According to the World Travel Organization, international tourist arrivals fell by 73% worldwide in 2020, with around one billion fewer travellers.

However, segments of the hospitality industry have seen a somewhat surprising increase in services. Resorts in the high-end travel market have seen a noticeable bump during the pandemic. As well-heeled clients became unable to travel the world to visit medically exposed locations, they turned to upscale resorts in the United States.

Last year I was invited to visit several travel destinations as a health professional and public health educator. I was initially surprised that some of the more exclusive resorts were completely full (and had long waiting lists) at a time when other hotels were temporarily closing. I started talking to managers at major flight destinations to understand how their resorts and spas could do so much better than the rest of the industry. The answer became obvious. While people suffered from cabin fever, some had the means and ability to pay for both exclusivity and medical security.

For example, I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful and secluded Taylor River Lodge in Almont, Colorado. It’s an impressive and exclusive place 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 summer and winter activities, including guided fly fishing in some of Colorado’s best rivers in the guise of luxury with adventure.

The Beaverkill Valley Inn tucked away in the Catskills town of Livingston, NY is a rustic destination that has become a retreat for affluent travelers. It was full during the pandemic summer seasons as families seeking both comfort and safety extended their time away from city 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 creeks are said to have been the birthplace of American fly fishing. Hostel managers told me that many of their regular customers stayed in the countryside to get away from the city and switched to working remotely.

Hotel management has been working to accommodate medical needs and address travel concerns during the pandemic. According to the owners, at the start of the pandemic, these stations implemented strict requirements, including screening and sanitization. They also stayed in very close communication with the guests to keep everyone well informed.

Taylor River Lodge had a boost in the summer of 2020 and also in the 2021 season when many other resorts had issues. This can be understood since the lodge is called an off-grid hideout and is a collection of luxury cabins. It was an attractive option for people to rent cabins for long periods of time to feel safe reuniting their families. Management has received reservation requests from the entire resort, including all cabins, for extended family getaways during the pandemic.

Despite the virtual collapse of the travel industry last year with more than a billion jobs at risk, groups such as high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals were more eager than ever to travel isolated and safe. According to analytics, luxury rentals in exotic locations have been extended by an average of 25%. Additionally, personal transportation, including private jets, has become the norm for safe travel. Despite the restrictions, these groups were able to find exclusive vacation destinations and rented longer.

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