The photography and photography products company Shutterfly has helped consumers find a way to turn their vacation memories into tangible objects, including mugs, photobooks, calendars and much more. For those looking to put a quirky spin on items, the company includes a page of vacation-inspired quotes, including “vacation calories don’t count,” or “I need a six-month vacation twice a year.”
However, when the pandemic hit, leisurely travel came to sudden halt. As vaccination rates continue to increase, stakeholders are pointing to evidence that Americans are eager to add vacations back into the mix. In January, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released its “State of the Hotel Industry 2021” report, which noted that 56% of consumers expect to travel for leisure this year, which is roughly the same amount as an average year.
This news could come as a positive for craft beverage alcohol purveyors as taprooms and tasting rooms offer travelers an opportunity to imbibe with local potations. For Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts, the impact of the pandemic on the tourism industry is one that he hopes to help.
“The pandemic decimated the tourism industry for the most part, and small businesses like independent wineries and distilleries took the brunt of it,” he says. “They rely on exporting their items, and having people visit ― both of which saw extreme slowdowns. However, visitors who could socially distance, like RVers, helped keep these tourist-dependent locations afloat. In fact, many of the businesses we work with expressed to us that Harvest Hosts was instrumental in keeping them up and running.”
Holland notes purveyors had to get creative as they navigated the pandemic.
“Some organizations made their entire businesses outdoors, and found other ways to make money and drive tourism ― like opening their grounds to RVers who could visit safely and still purchase goods,” he explains. “Others found new avenues for revenue, introducing delivery models so they could still serve customers, even while shut down, or created virtual experiences to keep interest alive even without on-site events. Every business adapted differently, but we saw a lot of innovation come from COVID that these SMBs can continue to rely on in the future.”
A membership program that provides access to a network of wineries, breweries, farms, museums and more through self-contained RVers, Vail, Colo.-based Harvest Hosts operates with a goal of providing meaningful experiences for RVers and hosts alike.
“Harvest Hosts connects over 175,000 of RVers with wineries, breweries, farms, golf courses and attractions to support local businesses,” Holland says. “Harvest Hosts is always completely free for small business host locations, and it is a great way to share their products with new customers in exchange for allowing RVers to park overnight for 24 hours.”
Currently, Harvest Hosts’ network includes 868 wineries, distilleries and breweries, Holland notes. With how Harvest Hosts is designed, wineries, breweries and distilleries benefit from the essentially free advertising that come from being exposed to the company’s membership base.
“It costs $0 to list on Harvest Hosts, and nothing is needed from the hosts besides offering a place for our members to park for 24 hours,” Holland says. “Our members spend $50 on average with the hosts they visit, which translates into an additional $13,000 in revenue per year for each of our hosts. In 2021, this will translate into over $40,000,000 spent by our members directly with the hosts they visit. Wineries and breweries can enjoy increased tourism and sales due to their listing, which ultimately provides a new revenue stream they didn’t have before.”
As more states and locales open up across the country, Americans likely will see travel plans increase. Although this likely will benefit traditional hotel and lodging models, Holland foresees opportunities for RV and host avenues as well.
“I believe that RV travel to wineries, distillers and breweries will continue to increase,” he says. “People have learned that it’s possible to stay at these unique locations, as well as how much fun it is to do so. The value is definitely there as well financially, and people can create great memories there that cannot be replicated with a hotel. Throughout the last year, we have seen a sharp increase in host and membership signups, which means there’s only more tourism to come for these businesses as more people get vaccinated and feel comfortable traveling.”
As Americans’ comfort level rises, Holland anticipates that Harvest Hosts will be part of that future.
“Harvest Hosts takes pride in helping people get off of the couch and onto the open road, while supporting wonderful small businesses, which are the backbone of our country,” he concludes. “Going forward, we hope to continue growing our membership base of RVers as well as our host locations, because both groups benefit from the experience.”