How ranches are fulfilling the pursuit of isolation vacations after COVID lockdowns
The outdoors always grant a great release for those who want to get away. Ranches, in particular, found their stride during the COVID-19 pandemic, with travelers looking for relief from throngs of people and embracing the healing properties of nature.
“The wholesomeness of the ranch experience and the people who deliver the experience feels wonderful when there is so much dissent and negativity out in the world,” says Stephanie Wilson, director of sales and marketing at Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Clark, Colo. Ranches resonate, especially now, because they get people off their phones and into nature, away from the news, distant from the mindless scroll of social media. “When talking about a great fishing trip or a horsemanship clinic, guests can leave the yuck of the world behind and just be present.”
For Vista Verde, the past 16 months were met with a whirlwind of adjustments, from reducing its 55-person occupancy by 20% during 2020’s summer months to seeking staff upon full capacity, a common problem the hospitality industry is facing. Now, as summer 2021 is in full swing, the waitlist at the ranch is “a mile long,” according to Wilson. “You can feel the effects of pent-up demand for travel where you can be outside, spread out, and away from the crowds.”
Other ranches, such as The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Mont., saw its busiest year since opening a decade ago. Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., where family reunions are on constant rotation, is also setting records with its June 2021 occupancy doubling its previous historic numbers.
As groups reconnect, luxury ranches are welcoming everything from small retreats to multi-generation gatherings. “We continue to see the trend of large families, full camp buyouts, and multi-generation travel,” says Courtney Scott, revenue manager at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont. “Families that have not been together for some time can come together at Paws Up in multiple accommodations, tents, or homes.”
Located 40 minutes from Missoula International Airport on 30,000 acres, Paws Up inherently provides space. With no hotel on property, lodging is secluded, outdoor dining is spaced out, and 100 miles of trails allow guests to truly spread out.
Whether humbled by a horse’s teachings or silenced by an ominous yet comforting roar of thunder, ranch properties provide fun (and sometimes new) experiences. It’s simple, but the isolation and disconnect create lasting memories for families and friends. At the Snake River Sporting Club in Jackson Hole, Wy., outdoor pursuits immerse guests into its habitat. “They want to be surrounded by nature and want authentic experiences that nourish their body and mind, so getting outside and doing activities that are unique to the destination,” says Chuck Greenwald, director of hospitality.
Engaging and reconnecting with themselves are main goals for guests. “We joke that our greatest amenity is the lack of cell phone service, but for many, it truly is,” says Lyon Porter, co-owner of Urban Cowboy Lodge in the Catskills, N.Y., which first opened in March 2020, just a week before the pandemic shutdown. It closed shortly thereafter and reopened in the summer with no-contact check-ins, all outdoor programming, and a 6,000-pound Roberta’s Pizza oven for the food program.
“As it turned out, opening an escape from New York City that summer was oddly the perfect timing. We were at 100% capacity the entire summer and became many people’s first trip outside of their apartment,” says Porter. “We erred on the side of the most cautious person in the room and created a safe respite from the stresses of the pandemic life in the city. It was a wild time, and we have to give credit to our amazing staff who were soldiers throughout the entire process.”
Right now, as international travel remains a complicated feat, U.S. ranches provide therapeutic escapes close to home. “There’s a saying that a horse is a mirror to your soul, and that is so true,” describes Wilson, who helps manage Vista Verde’s 100 horses. “Horses take us for exactly who we are, and they see us for all we are without judgment. Overall, if we are open to the lessons they are trying to teach us, horses are the best therapists out there.”
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