During and after this pandemic, fulfilling our travel dreams will require us to think differently about how we will get away. Though fear has driven most of our decisions, we are starting to pull back the Covid curtains and peek into options with a little more courage and a new focus: safety, healthy protocols, and outdoor experiences.
In a study conducted by Moca+'s Design Insights Forum comprising 456 respondents, 52% said they would travel in the next four to six months. Top destinations include national and state parks, beaches, and mountains, where people can remain outdoors, and camping offers a safe lodging option, ideally suited for physical distancing.
I joined the crowds of people who found safety and convenience in camping last year. When forced to cancel a trip to Italy last summer, I presented Plan B to my daughter: camp at Lake Siskiyou, a place we’d never been but heard was gorgeous. Situated at the base of Northern California’s Mt. Shasta, a nine-mile mountain bike path encircles Lake Siskiyou, and the beach affords unobstructed views of the 14,000-foot snow-capped mountain.
“The industry is making a concerted effort to accommodate our needs to feel safe, healthy, and protected while we “shelter away.”
To accommodate health and safety guidelines, the Lake Siskiyou Campground built individual “quarantine corrals” at the beach marked by yellow ropes strung between wooden posts, giving families and individuals a safe place to relax and recover from the daily dramas of pandemic life. We could share an experience, together, yet apart, and delight in regaining some normalcy. This approach to a trip seems to be the new normal for travel.
While camping gave us just one way to lodge safely, camper vans have presented a luxurious alternative to sleeping on the ground. Sales skyrocketed for some companies trying to keep up with the demand. For the first time in 30 years, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans beat sales of passenger cars in the UK alone, according to a report last April in The Drive.com. US Sprinter van sales nearly quadrupled last June, from 2.25% in 2019 to 8.7% in 2020.
With road trips offering a viable option to getting away in the coming months, more than 80% of people want Covid-related health and safety protocols in place during transportation and at their destination. Many people are booking stays on sites like Hipcamp.com, of which many hosts are private property owners offering safe glamping options. And the industry is making a concerted effort to accommodate our needs to feel safe, healthy, and protected while we “shelter away.”
Covid-Inspired Design Thinking
The Sisters Motor Lodge in Sisters, Oregon, is an excellent example of Covid-inspired design thinking. With a long history in the greater Bend area, new management recently took over the former motor lodge. Co-owner Scott Penzarella and his team are converting three of the former garages of the Sisters Motor Lodge into stand-alone units.
“We’re seeing that travelers want an in-and-out experience and do not want to engage with other people for a while. They are seeking their own entrances and exits,” he said. “They don’t want to be stuck in an elevator with strangers, especially in parts of the country where masks are still not required.”
Penzarella sees this cacoon-style offering attractive to high-end guests who are willing to pay a premium to ensure their safety.
The Sisters Motor Lodge pandemic-inspired design includes replacing the original garage doors with smoked glass doors that lift to an outdoor space so that guests have their own fire pit, picnic table, and area around the property—opening to vistas of the three sisters mountains: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Penzarella sees this cacoon-style offering attractive to high-end guests who are willing to pay a premium to ensure their safety.
“If I have to go to a hotel in Oregon where people are not wearing a mask, why don’t I go to someplace where I have my own hangout? That’s the future of travel,” he said, citing a recent guest driving from LA to Portland who stayed at The Sisters Motor Lodge because she did not have to interact with anyone.
Boutique hotels can innovate quicker than larger hotel chains and are taking advantage of catering to returning guests. Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe, “is using both technology and creative ingenuity to ensure that you have a safe, comfortable and relaxing stay,” according to its January newsletter.
Built with a mission to celebrate an active lifestyle, Cedar House prioritizes privacy and protocols according to the Blueprint for a Safer Economic’s tier-based system in Nevada County. With winter re-imagined, hotel management asks arriving guests to wait in their car at the lobby entrance and check-in via text. After the rooms are cleaned, no staff enters during guest occupancy to ensure the highest safety standards.
“At first, it was a huge adjustment,” said co-owner Patty Baird, “But we have a high return rate. Guests are adjusting along with us, and many of the changes we’ve made will continue.”
One adjustment was eliminating the self-serve snack stations in the lobby. “We’ve had to get creative in our snack delivery system and use texting as a way to stay connected with guests. We’re a lifestyle brand. We want to acknowledge that we see you.”
While Baird looks forward to reopening their restaurant and bar, her guests order take-out from their rooms, which was not an option for the 40-room hotel before Covid. “When the restrictions are lifted, some guests will continue to order take-out and dine on their patios—though we encourage them to return to the dining room, of course.”
Like many ski resorts, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Tahoe mandates safety protocols, requiring guests to wear masks in the lift lines, limiting indoor dining, and encouraging members of the same household to share the same chairlift. If the lines are less than 15 minutes, guests can ride with non-household members by sitting one seat apart. The general protocol: Mask Up on the mountain or go home.
For the first time in its history, Denali National Park in Alaska allowed backcountry visitors to check-in online last summer, bypassing the mandatory in-personal orientation, according to Adrienne Lindholm, Wilderness Program Coordinator for the National Park Service. To compensate for buses that would have typically brought people into the park, Denali allowed for a significant increase in individual vehicles to accommodate half a million tourists. “All these new protocols are currently in discussion to figure out what might be permanent,” Lindholm said.
With a vaccine in our midst, there is no better time to fulfill our dreams of travel. We can at least credit Covid with inspiring us to get creative in how we travel, why we travel, and what we can experience with a post-pandemic mindset.