How Resorts and Hotels Are Preparing for Summer Travel

Key insights:

Roughly two hours west of Denver, Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colo., offers all the typical amenities of your average dude ranch: archery, horseback riding, even a zipline.

But that’s not what Devil’s Thumb is advertising. Instead, in the age of Covid-19, it’s promoting the quality of its mountain air.

“Mind, body, spirit and morale will be restored knowing precautionary measures and protocols are in place to ensure your guests’ stay is healthy, relaxing and enjoyable,” Devil’s Thumb wrote in a letter to travel agents, urging them to book clients an escape in the “secluded and pristine Colorado mountain wilderness,” promising “clean, crisp, pine-infused air.”

As the weather gets warmer and the country undergoes the reopening process, resorts and lodges in the American South and in more rural destinations are beginning to ease their restrictions and prepare to welcome back visitors, banking that strong brand identity and an emphasis on cleanliness will allay health concerns.

This is all happening despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice that Americans only travel if it’s essential. Meanwhile, airlines have seen an ever-so-slight rise in summer bookings, while Carnival Corporation wants to be back in the water by August.

Devil’s Thumb isn’t alone. On May 13, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville resorts announced that it had begun to take steps to “welcome guests back to paradise.” The Key West, Fla., location is slated to open June 1, and its hotel in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., opens today. is doubling reward points for guests booking a stay between June 1 and Aug. 31.

What summer travel will look like

Stateside destinations will likely get a boost this summer. Travel surveys conducted by the industry show that people who are comfortable traveling will do so by car, and are far more likely to visit parks and beaches that are regionally close to their homes. Those same surveys also indicate an unwillingness to board an international flight or a cruise ship.

“Destination markets you can drive to are the hottest—those will come back the quickest. Any beachfront markets, we think there is pent-up demand,” said Stan Kennedy, chief operating officer for Remington Hotels, which manages more than 87 properties that include several beachside hotels.

When beaches in Florida reopened a few weeks ago, “we saw an almost instantaneous demand right away on the weekends, and that’s continued to grow every week,” he added.

In addition to staying close to home, travelers will also be looking for opportunities that allow for a more isolated vacation and intimate settings. That means limiting capacity. Over Memorial Day weekend, Devil’s Thumb Ranch officially opened for the season with a reduced capacity of roughly 30%. (So far, Grand County, where Devil’s Thumb is located, has only seen five confirmed cases of Covid-19, with roughly 23,000 cases in Colorado overall.)

Devil’s Thumb Ranch

The property was expecting to receive roughly 60 guests for the holiday weekend, a much smaller number than in years past. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2019, there were between 240 and 300 guests. At least half of Devil’s Thumb’s business last year came from group outings, such as corporate events or large weddings. That will no longer be an option this summer with capacity limits.

The socially distant approach will impact all aspects of the resort’s operations. Employees will wear face masks. Guests will need reservations for all onsite activities, like horseback riding, which will be conducted with social distancing in mind. The spa is closed. The resort’s restaurant is only open for takeout. The resort is hoping to hit 30% to 40% capacity over the summer.

“We’ve structured everything so that when you show up with your family, you can do activities on a private basis, you can stay out of everyone’s way. We’re not promoting congregation,” said Brian Ripley, chief revenue officer of Devil’s Thumb, noting that he was a “little trepidatious” about reopening but felt confident in the resort’s offerings for the current climate.

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