What started out as a way to monitor travel patterns of Jackson visitors to see if the town was meeting their needs has now become an effective tool for tracking tourism trends during the pandemic.
Cellphone data service Placer.ai, a foot-traffic analytics firm in Los Altos, California, offers four years of historical data for analysis. The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board recently purchased a license to use that data for close to real-time analysis of the volume of visitors in Jackson Hole.
Now that data is showing an unexpected rebound in visitors. For Brian Modena, marketing subcommittee chairman on the Travel and Tourism Board, the data is turning out to be key in guiding board decisions.
“I can see how many people were in Jackson on any given day from out of state over the last three years, plus this year,” Modena said.
Unlike specific cellphone apps developed for COVID-19 community spread tracking, Placer.ai uses area code data, giving the tourism board access to visitors’ locations before and after passing through Jackson, specific routes of travel, shopping tendencies, gender, household income and more.
While that may seem like an invasion of privacy, Modena said that by agreeing to terms and services and enabling cellphone tracking devices, people have already consented to such data collection. The data collected, however, is anonymized.
“You’re not able to see where one specific person went at any given time,” Modena said.
Comparing the average of three years of tourist data collected before the pandemic with last week, overall traffic is up by 3%, he said. Modena said he was hesitant at first to share the data without another source of reference. However, after comparing hotel booking percentages with the percentage of visitors, the correlation was nearly 100%.
“This is, you know, a very, very fast, robust return to tourism and the tourism economy that our town does rely on,” said Anna Olson, CEO and president of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.
The rapid growth toward a fully functioning economy, however, does not come without some concern. During Friday’s community COVID update, Mayor Pete Muldoon warned that keeping businesses open would rely on community action and behavior.
“That’s one of the most important things that we can do, is continue to wear the face coverings, continue to be safe to make sure that we’re not spreading this disease to other folks, so that we can be able to continue with some of the easing of restrictions that we’ve had,” Muldoon said.
With visitor numbers now surpassing the average of past years, Modena said he no longer sees a need for tourism marketing but, rather, a necessity for education. He said he hopes visitors coming to Jackson treat it like their home and that Jackson businesses continue to promote “Clean, Careful and Connected” measures.
According to Olson, signs throughout town have and will continue to remind visitors to be respectful of the health and safety of others by following health guidelines.
Sitting under a shady tree in Teton Village, Brad and Teresa Johnson from Utah rested after a busy day on Jenny Lake.
“It was insanely busy,” Brad Johnson said. “All the lots were full, and as you went out to the main road, a quarter mile in each direction was full of cars parked along the road.”
The couple said they drove up to Jackson for the first time to reunite with 24 family members and were headed to the Calico Bar and Restaurant for dinner.
Nearby, at the base of the Bridger Gondola, stood the Barclay family. They were unwinding from a busy day in Teton Village and making dinner plans for the evening. Originally their summer plans were to take a road trip to Colorado. But as a family with young kids, they changed their plans when they found that many popular activities for the kids were closed.
Mike Barclay, the father of four and owner of Four Silos Brewery in Arizona, wanted to take his family to a place where they could relax.
“We wanted to come somewhere without so many requirements,” he said.
Barclay said he and his family are always happy to put masks on and sanitize when asked by businesses, but outdoors, where they can physically distance from others, they enjoy life mask-free.
While the family planned to stay in Jackson for only a couple of days, they made sure to eat out and support local businesses. As a brewery owner himself, Barclay made a point of stopping by the Roadhouse Brewing Co. to support a business that hits close to his heart.
As the Travel and Tourism Board continues tracking visitor traffic, Modena wants local businesses to stay aware.
“We don’t need to drive tourism,” he said. “We need to manage it.”
This story has been corrected to show that Placer.ai has four years of data but the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board just started using that data a few weeks ago to respond to the pandemic. — Eds.