Jackson Hole’s Economy and COVID-19: Estimated Performance in 2020 and Beyond

May 19, 2020

In March 2020, the Charture Institute’s Co-Thrive initiative developed a model of Jackson Hole’s taxable sales economy. In April 2020, Co-Thrive conducted an online survey to “crowd source” estimates of how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect that economy, and the survey’s results were entered into the model. The results suggested the community could expect around a 40 percent drop in its taxable sales in 2020.

Although it will be several months before the survey’s results can be compared to actual data, the survey’s overwhelming popular success led Co-Thrive to conduct it again in early May.

Comparing the results of April’s and May’s surveys, the most striking aspect was that, during the four weeks between the surveys, respondents had become much more pessimistic about the prospects for Jackson Hole’s economy during the next 12 months (Graph 1)

2019 v. 2020: Est. Changes in Taxable Sales, by SeasonGraph 1
  • Summer 2020: In April, respondents felt summer’s taxable sales would fall 38 percent. In May, the figure was 51 percent, a 34 percent decline
  • Autumn 2020: In April, respondents felt autumn’s taxable sales would fall 25 percent. In May, the figure was 42 percent, a 68 percent decline
  • Winter 2020/21: In April, respondents felt winter’s taxable sales would fall 19 percent. In May, the figure was 35 percent, an 84 percent decline.

Respondents were also more pessimistic about how COVID-19 will affect their personal financial situation. More details are found below.

(Note: The May survey was taken before Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks announced their opening dates for 2020. How that announcement might affect the community’s collective outlook about the local economy is not reflected in these results.)

Survey Results

Between May 7-13 2020, 460 people completed the “Where Is Our Economy Heading?” survey. While this was significantly below the number responding to the initial survey in April 2020, the demographic profile of the people responding to the two surveys was nearly identical, allowing for an accurate comparison of the April and May results. The May survey was altered slightly from the April survey, so not all questions could be compared on an “apples to apples” basis.

Several questions gave respondents the chance to offer open-ended comments. Representative samples of these comments are found below, starting on page 6.

Key findings

Compared to April, in May respondents were notably more pessimistic about both their own personal financial situation and Jackson Hole’s economic future. Nine findings stood out.

1) COVID-19 is affecting respondents, both financially and personally
Respondents were asked to rate how COVID-19 was affecting them financially and personally, with +5 meaning “Making things tremendously better” and -5 meaning “Making things tremendously worse.”

The weighted average score for the “financial” question was -1.1, with 60 percent of respondents giving a negative response. The weighted average score for the “personally” question was -1.3, with 74 percent giving a negative response. (Graph 2)

Rate How COVID-19 is Affecting You
Graph 2

2) Compared to April, May’s respondents anticipate earning less and spending less in 2020 than they did 2019
In May, 2020, respondents overall felt their personal income would be 19 percent lower than their 2019 income, and that they would spend 22 percent less. In April’s survey, the figures were 14 percent and 14 percent respectively. (Graph 3)

2019 v. 2020: Changes in Personal Income & Expenditures
Graph 3

3) Respondents feel COVID-19 will continue to affect Jackson Hole through Spring 2021, if not longer
Two-thirds of respondents feel Jackson Hole will continue to feel the effects of COVID-19 through Spring 2020-21 at the earliest, and another 25 percent feel that the community will never be the same as it was. (Graph 4)

Q: When Will JH No Longer Need to Worry about COVID-19?
Graph 4

4) Respondents feel it will take until Spring, 2021, if not longer, for all of Jackson Hole’s businesses to fully re-open
In April, 82 percent of respondents felt Jackson Hole’s businesses would fully re-open by the end of September. In May, that figure fell nearly in half, to 46 percent.

In May, 27 percent of respondents felt local businesses will not fully re-open until the Spring of 2021, if not later, and another 14 percent felt that some of the businesses open before COVID-19 struck will never re-open. (Graph 5)

Timing of Events
Graph 5

5) Almost half of respondents feel Americans will be comfortable taking car-based vacations again by the end of July
In April, 62 percent of respondents felt most Americans would feel comfortable taking car-based vacations again by the end of July. In May, the same 62 percent felt most Americans would not feel comfortable taking car-based vacations until the end of August, meaning the collective view had grown more pessimistic by a full month. 18 percent of respondents felt most Americans wouldn’t feel comfortable taking car-based vacations again until Spring 2021 at the earliest, and another 4 percent felt most Americans would never feel comfortable again at all. (Graph 6)

When will people be comfortable resuming driving vacations?
Graph 6

6) Almost half of respondents feel Americans will not be comfortable taking airplane-based vacations again until Spring 2021, if ever In April, 2/3 of respondents felt most Americans would feel comfortable taking airplane-based vacations again by the end of September. In May, the percentage of respondents feeling most Americans would feel comfortable taking flying-based vacations by the end of September at figure fell in half, to just one-third. Fewer than half of respondents feel most Americans will be comfortable taking an airplane based vacation before the 2020/21 ski season starts, and 44 percent feel it will be Spring 2021, if ever. (Graph 7)

When will people be comfortable resuming flying vacations?
Graph 7

7) Respondents expect Summer 2020 tourism to be off by half, with a bigger drop coming in air-based tourism than in car-based tourism.
In May, respondents felt markedly more pessimistic about the prospects for summer tourism than they did in April. This was especially true regarding tourists arriving via air, where the gap between declines in car- and air-based tourism doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent (in April, respondents felt there would be a 37% decline in driving-based tourism and a 47% decline in air-based tourism; in May the figures were 41% and 61% respectively). (Graph 8)

What will happen in summer 2020?
Graph 8

8) Respondents expect Autumn 2020 tourism to be off by 40 percent, with car-based tourism dropping by one-third and air-based tourism dropping by one-half
In May, respondents also felt markedly more pessimistic about the prospects for autumn tourism. This was especially true regarding tourists arriving via air, where May respondents’ estimate of the decline in air-based tourism was nearly twice of April’s respondents (29% v 51%). (Graph 9)

What will happen in autumn 2020?
Graph 9

9) Respondents expect Winter 2020/21 tourism to be off by over one-third
The change between April’s and May’s estimates was most striking for the Winter 2020/21 season, where every estimate about doubled. (Graph 10)

What will happen in ski season 2020/21?
Graph 10

Model Results

The mean estimates of monthly sales changes from the May survey were put into Co-Thrive’s model of Teton County’s taxable sales economy. Graph 11 summarizes the key findings, and Table 1 below offers more detail.

May’s respondents were more pessimistic about Jackson Hole’s economy than were April’s. This is reflected in the May model results, which shows a gloomier outlook for Jackson Hole’s economy than did April’s results.

In particular, while the Spring 2020 results using the April and May data were essentially unchanged, the May Summer 2020 estimates were 10 percent lower than the April estimates, the Autumn estimates were 21 percent lower, and the estimates for Winter 2020/21 were a full third lower than they were in April.

Model estimates of taxable sales change: April v. MayGraph 11
Projected 4% sales tax collections

Survey Comments

Respondents could offer open-ended comments to several questions. Here is a representative sample of the responses to each. All are presented unedited, and in alphabetical order within each grouping.

(Note: Some comments offered praise of this survey, and others criticized it for reasons ranging from length to not seeing the use in it. Neither category of comments is included below.)

Do you consider yourself living paycheck-to-paycheck?

  • I do SINCE THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE to this virus; *never a day before this…
  • My personal correct answer would be Sometimes
  • We had a 60-day “emergency buffer”

On a scale of 5 to -5, to what degree is COVID-19 affecting your life financially? (-5 means “Tremendously worse” and +5 means “Tremendously better.)

  • As of today not much change but is worse each month it goes on
  • Cancellation of events for my kids has improved my financial life (no prom, no camps, etc)
  • Can’t answer this question … some much worse, some better but not no different
  • Constant threats of furlough make economic stress high, not buying anything extra or any splurges at this time.
  • Hard to predict the future, but my performance career may well be over for good.
  • Income increase slightly. The only noticeable uptick in expense is the cost of feeding 3 kids who are home all day vs them eating at B&L at school. 3 boys equates to noticeable increase but other costs we don’t have like gas offset this.
  • Returning to work will be trickier and my other income is affected also. My rental property was vacant for a few months also because of the shut downs.
  • Stress comes from making sure employees are taken care of
  • Things have basically evened out between my lost early season work and the stimulus check and additional unemployment
  • We have rental homes and our renter’s have requested reduced rents.
  • Without the CARES Act supplement to Unemployment benefits, I would not be able to cover rent/bills

On a scale of 5 to -5, to what degree is COVID-19 affecting your life personally (-5 means “Tremendously worse” and +5 means “Tremendously better.)

  • Adjusting to new norm, spending less, eating healthier, exercising more but isolated
  • Childcare during the pandemic has been my most difficult challenge.
  • Even with no financial stress, this has been an emotional roller coaster — sometimes I feel totally fine, and other times I get very down.
  • Every week has ups and downs due to uncertainty and the physical aspects of this virus are still largely unknown makingbit difficult to plan ahead for my practice. I don’t have UI or PPP or even the stimulus check yet. I’m okay in many ways too. Such an odd personal experience. My practice was very successful before this.
  • I am a transplant albeit of 26 years but I feel the lack of close family is harder to bear now. Social isolation is stressful.
  • I find that I feel a bit queasy at the thought of going into the grocery store with so many other people.
  • I just worry more
  • I miss people.
  • Mainly mentally. Very unsettled and nervous w things being so open ended and un able to plan for anything. Everything planned out the window so in limbo, like everyone.
  • more time for family, more time for exercise and healthy meals at home
  • Physical and mental could be two separate questions. Working from home, it is easier to exercise and get outside and it is a pleasant working environment, a 4. Outside work, anxiety swings as gathering with friends and family is challenging and it could be a very long time before seeing family/friends who live elsewhere., a -4. Hence the 0 score.
  • Returning to a work environment dealing with tourists & high risk of Covid exposure is terrifying.
  • some better (more time with my immediate family), some more stressful (decreased social relationships, anxiety about children’s academics, college decision, etc))
  • This all sucks, didn’t have to happen if our leaders had been prepared and responded coherently.
  • While I have so much more to be thankful for and more stability than others in the US and world wide, this isolation situation has been very difficult.
  • Working remotely has changed my routine. It has made my day more structured, which has increased my productivity and created time for daily exercise.

At what pace will things recover?

  • All depends on what happens if second wave happens or doesn’t happen
  • All will be influenced by the availability of an effective vaccine.
  • Businesses “fully” reopening is a little open-ended. As some are opening at different levels. Also, I do think some people will feel fine flying, but the majority will not feel great about it until next Winter/Spring.
  • I think “most Americans” will start feeling comfortable doing these things WAY before they should.
  • I think a certain polarization will occur. Some people will defiantly begin travel; others will be very hesitant for some time.
  • I think people will be ready far sooner than is safe for them to travel. Conspiracy theories aren’t helping.
  • I think that many people are struggling with conflicting information from all levels of leadership.
  • If we’re smart (?) we’ll keep in mind that nature bats last. And we’ve screwed things up enough that it’s all a new, totally unpredictable ballgame.
  • It will be interesting on how many people getting unemployment will travel and stay on unemployment. I know of 2 people who are traveling from North Carolina and spending 2 weeks at different islands off Florida coast. Already said won’t wait at restaurants if have to wear mask. Knowing them they will stay on unemployment till it runs out
  • Jackson has been spared thus far by pandemic protocols – a foolish false sense of security will cost us dearly.
  • People are creatures of comfort and jump right back into routines.
  • There must be millions afraid to fly on vacation and itching to drive somewhere safe. Jackson could be flooded with visitors.
  • Things have shifted irrevocably. Most people are living a dream about things returning to the way they were.
  • Will need to get out of the shelter effect supersede a sense of real safety creating an atmosphere of excuses for how family units will avoid exposure rather than continue in safe mode when conditions still indicate such is wiser?

When will things return to “normal”?

  • I hope visitation will be low; I am very afraid it won’t be.
  • Locals and returning residents may help the local community as much as they can. I think tourists sales will be very low.
  • No estimate given the laxity in gov leadership of the issue. More likely a big spike in cases that will affect the area.
  • No one who answers these questions has any idea. How can you proceed with presenting this data as though it has any truth, relevance, or significance? Any answer is a total guess. Why not spend your time on endeavors designed to protect our local population? Or perhaps the point of this survey is to collect random guesses?! If so, I am wasting my time.
  • Things are going to be financially ugly. And unfortunately the majority of those who will be traveling, arriving here, will be those who believe Covid-19 is not big deal or is even “fake news.”
  • With the governor opening restaurants/bars, perhaps we will see the restaurant sector increase from April giving a slight boost to overall taxable sales … but I doubt it. People will still be cautious … plus the weather is still too temperamental for outdoor dining.

What do you see happening in Summer 2020?

  • Even when tourists come they will spend less.
  • Flying on commercial will take awhile. Private will see increase. Let’s get stores open to see if the data is accurate. Glad to hear various hotel owners plans to reopen after Memorial Day. When we have a fare up or resurgence of cases due to opening back up, we will respond as a community appropriately. But let’s have confidence in what we know (data driven decisions) and get people back to work.
  • Our tourism volume is largely based on availability of accommodations in the national parks and when they are full the equally or more expensive lodging in the outlying or gateway communities begin to fill – visitors are used to park lodging being hard to come by. They do not always have a good sense of geography however so it will be critical for Jacksons tourism industry that promotion of summer which has largely been left to the Park entities for the last 20 years be ramped up
  • Tourists will begin to arrive via driving, a few more by air, but will spend less

What do you see happening in Autumn 2020?

  • Depends on covid Hospital treatments
  • Fall begin to slow normally, but people will still fear others, so driving will be major transportation not air; still slow to spend
  • Fall has the tendency to bring a lot of retired people. So it will be interesting to see if that happens.
  • Tour groups are a significant portion of lodging business during the fall and I think the majority of those trips will end up being cancelled

What do you see happening in Ski Season 2020/21?

  • A second wave could tank the ski season.
  • All depends on when/ if a vaccine is widely avail.
  • Depends if we shutdown every time
  • I expect that governments and their media will make the public frightened to risk a surge in the virus. This also all depends on government masters, NOT actual risks as individuals might perceive them.
  • No vaccine no business
  • Really depends on whether we get a rebound in infections during the summer! Large rebound= higher cliff
  • Still fearful, more will come for skiing and will fly in because of short windows of opportunity (too far to drive) younger crowd, less afraid of Covid.
  • This is all going to depend on the subsequent waves of COVID-19 cases. We can’t forecast this without seeing epidemiological data for this summer.
  • We have only ever had negligible drive based winter markets. Will people fly again?

How will COVID-19 affect your personal income and expenditures?

  • Adult children home for summer was not expected. They may not find safe jobs and still eat (love them).
  • As a family, we typically spend money on things like going out to dinner and travel. We’ve not “gone out to dinner” in months and our travel plans for the spring were canceled.
  • I live pretty frugally anyway, but I will spend less on gas and eating out and public entertainment than I used to.
  • I’m in the middle of a remodel – so that’s not a fair question! If given the opportunity, I would not have started the project…
  • Most of my savings in expenditures are from lack of childcare
  • My rental properties ( i.e., short-term vacation rentals are EMPTY). I am converting to long-term rental on one property (out of state).
  • No more dining out for a while or apres sessions and staycation getaways!
  • No worky no spendy
  • Property tax increase
  • Reduced overseas air travel.
  • The government’s response is likely to require us to shutter our business, and sell our house, the one my wife and I have both worked 80+ hour weeks for 15+ years in order to have. All of my staff is hurting horribly.
  • there is no place locally to spend funds – restaurants, bars, movies, entertainment, etc closed until who knows when!
  • Unless/until we get a handle on less consumption, we face perils of degree previously unimagined in human history.
  • We are not traveling at all, so our overall expenditures are significantly reduced.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

  • fear of a second wave fueled by distrust of the government and media will likely cause a second wave of disruption
  • Full recovery may never happen
  • Get the kids back In school in the fall. Better there than home — for social, emotional and mental health reasons for entire families.
  • I am turning into a pessimist. I believe there will be a second wave in the fall and the tourist will suffer for it.
  • I believe in fall as travel restrictions may lift, a good percentage of the visitor population who travels then – the 55+ years with disposable income to spend – may not visit due to Covid-19 health concerns. Winter, assuming the snowfall is the same as 2019, will see a decrease in visitation and sales, but March will balance out with the JHMR closing for two weeks in 2020 vs. being open for the entire month in 2021.
  • I don’t believe that the economy of Jackson will fully recover to pre-COVID levels until #1. Vaccine available, #2. People are all working again. There will be lasting effects because of the number of people that have lost their jobs, or businesses.
  • I feel very angry and there is nothing you can do about it but try and make the best rearrange and again strategize. Our livelihoods are the certain demise, not a risk but a certainty.
  • I think we will see a 20% decrease across the board for the next year in both visits and tax revenue. I think we will see an uptick in regional / drivable tourism and a decrease in air travel. I think people will be hesitant to spend money dining out but that parks and outdoor rec will see a boost in activity.
  • I thought about responding that numbers would progressively get a little better over the next year, but I decided to make a guess at what might happen if we have another spike in cases in the fall. That’s where I went with my numbers, but if that happens my numbers are probably too conservative.
  • I will be curious to see how this turns out in real life. I don’t want to be a pessimist but it’s hard not to be. This comes perhaps from living here for a long-time, being in the unfortunate realm of the “middle-class”, having two kids, one still in college, one just out, and having worked for non-profits for my entire professional career here. I worry about the long-term effects of this as the future is so uncertain at this particular point in time. How will the losses in the stock market affect the future of JH? How will the decline in oil and gas revenue in the state of Wyoming affect infrastructure? and on and on.
  • If Trump gets re-elected, it’s goodbye to representative democracy and hello to Fascism. We are a good way there already. The super rich don’t really care about this phenomenon, as long as they can hang on to their money and privilege. The power mongers in this country (and maybe in the entire world) are truly insane. They are working feverishly in the direction of extinguishing organized human civilization and possibly our species, along with most others. There are many indications that we are totally fucked…
  • I’m glad this town has many generous donors that have helped some thru this BUT I think the fallout is going to be very serious. Too many live right on the edge here and this will force quite a few to leave.
  • It is going to take a long time to get over this period and Jackson will probably fair much better than some of the other areas of the country where COVID will infect a much large proportion of the population
  • Jackson’s future looks rough since it is solely based on tourism and international labor.
  • Life is going to be very difficult for wage earners particularly wait staff through the winter. This will be especially true of the Hispanic community. We all need to step up as much as possible.
  • Many skiers will take non-ski vacations
  • My guess is that most businesses won’t need to recall ALL of their employees, due to decrease in capacity and traffic at restaurants, stores, etc. People will need to work on a plan B for their lives. I am also sad to hear people complaining about not wanting to return to work–due to making more on unemployment.
  • The RESPONSE to this virus (nor the next personal preference, nor the next this or the next that…) is not acceptable. It is not EVER okay to force my neighbor to do what I want. Ever.
  • The way people are behaving, I think our 2nd wave will be way worse than the 1st in Wyoming. If 80 percent of the population would wear masks, this could be over quick. But they won’t.
  • There is no question that we have a virus but the numbers are, in most areas, less that a typical flew season. We have been hoaxed by some very powerful people to trash our economy. We can only hope and pray that President Trump and others can bring us out of this recession with minimal damage.
  • There will be a surge of infections upon reopening, followed by increased noncompliance with any renewed shut down orders.
  • There will be multiple “waves” of infection in the US, due to how poorly the pandemic is being and will be handled. It will require either a vaccine to “fix” the situation, or less likely a mutation in the virus which lowers its infectiousness – which is what happened in 1919; and that was ~1.5 years following the initial outbreak. This is not going to simply “go away”, disappear, as Trump touts.
  • Until the level of testing can be done on essentially everyone we will not have any confidence in the extent to which the virus has and is spreading among the population. Until there’s a vaccine or significant advances in treatment there will not be a comfort level in interacting socially, especially in crowded environments, which will have a ripple effect for years. We have not seen the apex of the health and economic impact, and the talk of a second wave is deceiving because we haven’t gotten through the first wave yet.
  • Until there is a vaccine, tourism will be down by an average of 50%.
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