It has been a strange and stressful 14 months to say the least but, thanks to vaccines, it looks like we are finally in the homestretch of the race against COVID-19. Schools are open, fans are back in Coors Field and there will be outdoor concerts on Pearl Street this summer. I flew out of Denver International Airport last weekend and it seemed as busy as any typical Saturday before this all started.
But beneath the surface of returning normality, how are people really feeling? My firm is fielding a national survey on the plans and priorities of Americans this summer. We are doing the research in partnership with the International Downtown Association. Locally, the Downtown Boulder Partnership distributed the survey and has received over 600 responses so far. Here is what these new survey numbers are telling us about summer 2021 in Boulder.
Not surprisingly, local residents are embracing the vaccines. So far, 86% of respondents have had their shots and an additional six percent intend to. Those are impressive numbers and should give us all confidence that we can feel good about getting out this summer. Regarding masks, 57% think they should no longer be required outdoors unless in a crowded space where distancing is not possible.
Speaking of the outdoors, people overwhelmingly feel safe going to concerts, festivals, markets and even running events as long as they are outside. They are also very comfortable shopping in retail stores, eating indoors at restaurants with extra spacing and going to museums or libraries. The only activities that still make people nervous include going to movies, indoor concerts, gyms and crowded nightclubs.
About 90% of Boulder respondents say they will take a trip this summer, which is just about a complete reversal of last year at this time. However, more than half still report feeling very or somewhat uncomfortable on airplanes or in any public transit. So while it’s still early in the season, it looks like road trips will dominate again as the preferred vacation choice this summer. Rocky Mountain National Park is extending its reservation system through October due to anticipated crowds. Expect all the mountain towns to be busier than usual and Pearl Street to be packed this summer.
When it comes to shopping, 43% of locals say they will return to their pre-COVID spending habits, but 41% say they will continue to spend more online indefinitely. This is concerning for brick-and mortar-retailers and will continue to force adjustments to how they operate.
Most people are also not planning to go back to their pre-COVID work life. Just 27% expect to return to their offices full time while 39% expect to adapt a hybrid model of working remotely part of the time. This should translate to less traffic during rush hours and will likely impact business for coffee shops and restaurants that depend on the office crowd to fill seats.
Speaking of restaurants, people love the expanded outdoor dining areas on sidewalks, parking lots and streets, with 86% of respondents wanting to make all or some of the changes permanent. This is the strong sentiment not only in Boulder but nationwide and cities everywhere will have to work out policies to address it. What do you do about the lost parking and disrupted traffic flow? If the changes are made permanent, how do you spruce up the concrete barriers and plastic fencing to make the areas attractive and safe for the longer term?
Regarding vaccine passports, 69% of Boulder residents support issuing them and 63% favor requiring them to enter an event or board a plane. But there is no consensus on whether they should be issued by the vaccine provider or federal, state or local officials. This will likely continue to be a hot issue as tensions grow between those who avoid the vaccines and those who have had their shots.
So, summer 2021 is not shaping up to be “normal” by any pre-COVID standard but it will be a huge leap forward from last year. We still have issues to work out and adjustments to make but, overall, people in Boulder and across the country are feeling optimistic and ready to get back out and enjoy life.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. You can email him at email@example.com to blog