Sunday, June 24, 2018
Travel Analyst Urges Sun Valley to Focus on Bookends
Sun Valley’s P.R. Manager Kelli Lusk said last week that Sun Valley has recorded about 400,000 skier visits this winter. But she expected to add to the total over the three-day Baldy Bash weekend.
Monday, April 24, 2017


Sun Valley had a great winter, with near-record snowfall.

But don’t let that jeopardize your summer business, which has been eclipsing winter and is continuing to grow, a resort analyst cautioned Sun Valley hoteliers and retailers this week.

“It you spend a lot of time talking about how good the winter is, what does that do to your summer business?” Ralf Garrison warned. “Vacationers will say, ‘There’s still 200 inches of snow on the mountain. I think I’ll spend summer on the beach.’ ”

Garrison is director of DestiMetrics, a Denver-based firm that market trends for 35 ski resorts, not including Sun Valley. He spoke Thursday evening before a packed room of more than 150 people at a community meeting organized by Visit Sun Valley in the Limelight Hotel.

Despite the abundance of snow in the West, skier numbers for the 2016-17 ski season are flat and may even decline by the time ski resorts add up the numbers through April 30.

The industry is estimating 53 million skier visits this year. That’s off a little from last year’s 53.9 million skier visits. And it’s far below the largest recorded number of 60.5 million in the 2010/11 and 2007/08 ski seasons.

The ski season got off to a slow start with warm temperatures and little snow around Thanksgiving, was strong mid-season and lost momentum in the final weeks. And, skiing was poor in the East.

Often, there was too much snow, hampering travel and closing resorts—even Sun Valley had to close Bald Mountain two days.

That said, overall revenue among Western ski resorts is up compared to the same time last year and four of the six winter months showed increases in occupancy.

Resorts have approached practical capacity during high-demand periods and should focus on bringing in more guests during season bookends, rather than trying to bring them here during peak times.

“Thanksgiving to Dec. 24 and March 18 through April 8 is where you might want to focus as a destination magnet,” Garrison said. A destination magnet, he explained, draws guests from a distance, requiring multiple nights of lodging.

During the recession, Ketchum’s winter revenues dipped 35.8 percent from what they had been, said Garrison, who has been hired by Visit Sun Valley to forecast occupancy and tourism in the Wood River Valley.

The aggregate total for winter resorts across the board dipped 25.3 percent.

But Ketchum has recovered more rapidly than the aggregate, shooting up 21.8 percent versus 15.7 percent.

Ketchum’s summer revenues were stronger than the aggregate in the beginning. Ketchum’s revenues dropped off 26.9 percent at worse and is now up 36.9 percent.

The aggregate dropped 15.7 percent and has grown 96.1 percent above 2007 revenues.

“The last two years the weeks following Labor Day has been the biggest growth area for resorts,” Garrison noted.

“Almost everyone who goes on vacation today goes to play where they would consider retiring,” Garrison said.

Resorts must have a 65 percent year round occupancy for real estate to be motivated.

In Ketchum the availability of beds has becoming a limiting factor. There are 1,901 units and 5,623 pillows here—half the number of beds an equivalent resort has.

That stands to change.

More beds were added this year with the opening of the Limelight Hotel, and the Auberge Hotel is expected to undergo construction this summer. A three-story, 72-room Marriott Fairfield Inn has been  proposed for Hailey. And Bellevue Planning and Zoning has given its blessing to a 57-room Silver Creek Hotel.

“Rent by owner properties also figure into the equation,” Garrison noted.

Garrison noted that the area has its transportation act together.

“The airlines flying into Friedman Memorial Airport have been consistently profitable since 2010 and that should continue,” he said.

Carol Waller, executive director of Fly Sun Valley Alliance, concurred noting that she had only good news to share.

The 1 percent local option tax (LOT), which will go before voters for renewal on May 16, helped secure direct flights from Denver, Portland and San Francisco. The airport also gets direct flights from Los Angeles, Seattle and Salt Lake City.

The airlines brought in 40,000 new visitors who spent $55 million while here. Projected emplanements for 2017 are 98,500 with 133,499 seats. That’s up from 57,945 enplanements in 2013 and 84,504 seats.

Service from San Francisco will expand beginning June 10 and flights from Seattle will increase from  June 9 through Dec. 10. The new Portland flight will start its inaugural summer season June 14 through Sept. 17.

Waller said Fly Sun Valley and its allies hopes to announce a new nonstop flight for 2018 in a couple months.

“Consumer confidence is going up with the Dow Jones and unemployment is low, which bodes well for the travel industry,” Garrison said. That said, the dial on the CNN Fear and Greed Index, which measures investors’ appetite for risk, has swung to extreme fear. Wall Street is reacting cautiously in face of challenges in Congress and the White House geopolitical turmoil involving North Korea and Middle East.

“Something’s making us feel uncomfortable,” Garrison said.

“The number of international travelers visiting the United States is dropping, as overseas travelers become uncomfortable about visiting the United States. But that doesn’t affect Sun Valley much, as it does not get a large contingent of overseas travelers,” Garrison said.

Visit Sun Valley’s Executive Director Scott Fortner introduced the organization’s new ad campaign for summer

Similar to “The Unbeaten Path” winter ads, these short clips are called “Wisdom from the Unbeaten Path.”

“Casting Call features flyfishing guide Brian Richter. “The Trail’s End” features Joe St. Onge talking about hiking. Sun Valley Summer Symphony Musical Director Alasdair Neale takes “The Center Stage.” And other clips focus on mountain biking and other activities, such as golfing.

Fortner noted by 80 percent of millennial travelers say reviews significantly influence travel decisions and encouraged retailers to have customers leave reviews on sites like Trip Advisor.


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