When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world a little over a year ago, most businesses that focused on in-person services, events, and gatherings, as well as any adjacent activities, were understandably impacted. At the time, not only were all nonessential parts of the U.S. economy shut down, but there was no way to know when the pandemic would start to wind down, or if it ever would.

Fast-forward a year, and we've had some promising developments. Not only are safe and effective vaccines available, but they're being rolled out at an impressive pace. And although it's early, we're already seeing clear signs that people want to get out and do things.

As a result, some of the hardest-hit stocks have rebounded significantly. Here are three in particular that have more than doubled over the past year, but could still have plenty of upside potential ahead -- especially for patient long-term investors.

Company (Symbol)


1-Year Change

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (SKT -0.30%)

Outlet malls


Ryman Hospitality Properties (RHP -2.22%)



Walker & Dunlop (WD -0.09%)

Real estate finance


Data source: YCharts. Returns as of April 13, 2021.

Man with a suitcase checking in at a hotel reception desk

Image source: Getty Images.

Outlet retail isn't dead -- far from it

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers is the only pure play on outlet real estate in the market, with about 40 outlet centers in the U.S. and Canada. And to be fair, the COVID-19 crisis wasn't exactly kind to Tanger's business. Virtually all of the REIT's tenants were forced to close as the pandemic spread, and some of its largest tenants, such as Ascena Brands (parent company of Loft), went bankrupt in 2020. As a result, occupancy fell from 97% at the end of 2019 to below 92% at the end of 2020.

However, the future looks quite promising. For one thing, we're starting to see just how strong demand for outlet shopping is -- by early January, customer traffic at Tanger's U.S. outlet centers had rebounded to 99% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Plus, the company is having success in re-leasing space, especially to larger retailers who fill up more space. For example, Dicks Sporting Goods recently opened an outlet location at a Tanger property. Tanger's balance sheet is rock-solid and the company has the financial flexibility to pursue growth opportunities as they arise. And if the early consumer activity is any indicator, there could be plenty of opportunities to expand in the years ahead.

People want to get together

At the onset of the pandemic, Ryman Hospitality Properties was the hardest-hit stock in my portfolio (and I own about three dozen stocks), losing as much as 85% of its pre-pandemic high at one point. And it's easy to see why. Ryman operates hotels and entertainment venues, and not only did travel grind to a halt, but Ryman's properties are specifically focused on large gatherings like conferences and conventions. The impact on Ryman's business was so bad that the company voluntarily closed its properties for several months in 2020 because it was more economical to do that than to keep them open.

With light at the end of the tunnel, things have changed. All but one of Ryman's properties are open, and the company has done a great job of temporarily pivoting to leisure travel (for instance, one of its properties is close to Walt Disney World in Orlando). More importantly, future demand for Ryman's large-scale group-focused properties is incredibly strong. The company has rebooked a total of 1.34 million canceled room nights, and it's reporting extremely strong bookings for the second half of 2021 and beyond.

Commercial real estate has never been stronger

Last, but certainly not least, shares of commercial real estate finance company Walker & Dunlop have risen by more than 170% year over year.

Back in 2015, Walker & Dunlop set some pretty ambitious five-year goals it wanted to hit by the end of 2020. And when the pandemic started, most experts didn't think the company had a chance. However, the combination of record-low interest rates and lots of demand for real estate made 2020 an excellent year for the business and Walker & Dunlop handily beat most of its goals. Management wanted $1 billion in revenue. The company produced $1.08 billion. It wanted $30 billion in financing volume and a $100 billion mortgage servicing portfolio. It got $35 billion and $107 billion, respectively.

Along with its year-end earnings, Walker & Dunlop released some equally ambitious five-year goals it wants to achieve by 2025. Not only does it want to nearly double its financing volume and add more than $50 billion in loans to the servicing portfolio, but it wants to roughly quadruple the size of its brokerage business and grow a real estate investment bank essentially from scratch. If it can accomplish these things, the recent gains could be just a starting point.

Buy for the long term

To be sure, I'm not saying that these stocks are going straight up from here. They've taken investors on quite a roller-coaster ride over the past year, and that isn't necessarily over. If there are any hiccups in the reopening of the economy, I'd expect these stocks to react negatively in the short term.

However, these are three winning, well-run businesses that have big market opportunities, and investors shouldn't be afraid to add these stocks to their portfolios just because they went up.