Monday, June 1, 2020
Officials Hope Sun Valley’s Outdoor Amenities Offer Antidote to Pandemic
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Tourist officials hope Sun Valley’s outdoor amenities will lure COVID-19 weary travelers this summer.
 
Thursday, May 21, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

We’re here when you’re ready.

That’s the message local tourist officials want to convey to tourists who may be hesitant to begin traveling again.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Sun Valley’s tourism like a freight train, and Sun Valley got a wave of negative press thanks to a monumental infection rate that made it one of COVID-19’s hot spots early on,  Visit Sun Valley’s Ray Gadd told those attending Visit Sun Valley’s summer meeting online.

 
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Idaho topped 2,500 cases on Wednesday, with 30 new cases bringing the total to 2,506. Blaine County remained at 509 cases. Paul Ries’ graph today shows a slight bump in Blaine County’s curve after the start of Stage One of Idaho’s reopening.
 

“We’re trying to flatten the curve to keep the community safe and instill traveler confidence,” he added.

While favorite events have been cancelled this summer, we want to see visitors coming for a different experience, he said pointing to outdoor activities that abound: “We’re so lucky to have incredible assets right out our door.”

Visit Sun Valley is inviting visitors to make Sun Valley their base camp for mountain biking, hiking fly fishing, wellness-oriented activities and the opportunity to enjoy Sun Valley’s dark skies.

“It’s such an incredible experience in the summer when the Milky Way is visible,” Gadd said.

Golf resumed a few weeks ago and some restaurants began opening their doors this week.

Sun Valley Resort opened Sun Valley Club for take-out and patio dining this week and will open the Village Station, Konditorei and Ram Restaurant May 29. It hopes to open The Lodge Terrace, the Duchin Room, the Ram Restaurant and Bar and Roundhouse in mid- to late June. The resort salon will reopen this weekend, and the Sun Valley Lodge will reopen on May 30, along with the pool, spa and fitness facilities.

Sun Valley Village shops are expected to open between June 1 and June 20, with the ice rink opening June 8. The bowling alley, gun club, tennis courts and Horseman’s Center are expected to reopen between June 8 and June 27.

Sun Valley had a fantastic ski season, notwithstanding that it ended a little abruptly, said General Manager Tim Silva.

“Now we will see major, major efforts to stay healthy,” he added, referring to increased cleaning measures, sanitization stations, and rearranged public spaces and furniture. “We will certainly have a focus on all the outdoor spaces. Large groups will simply not happen this summer. Our focus instead will be on family and individual travel.”

While the biking trails on Bald Mountain are open, officials are still trying to figure out how they might offer safe lift access, Silva said. Work is moving ahead on the Bald Mountain Expansion, which will add 380 acres of skiing terrain and a new high-speed chairlift. And the Healthy Forest Initiative will continue with diseased trees removed on Limelight and Central Park.

Right now, Gadd said, confidence in air travel is down, meaning drive markets from Boise, Twin Falls, Salt Lake City and Seattle will be important. But air travel is expected to come around as summer goes on, and local air service will ramp up at the end of June with daily flights between Sun Valley and Seattle, Salt Lake, Los Angeles and Denver. There will be Saturday and Sunday flights between Sun Valley and San Francisco.

Boise has gained an influx of new people so now’s the time to target them, he said.

Those in the 18- to 34-year-old age range are the most likely to travel in the next six months. And what they want most right now is outdoor travel. Sixty percent of travelers anticipate traveling within one to two months of the pandemic being contained.

“They want to go, they want those experiences and more now than ever,” Gadd quoted Luxury Travel Advisors.

Site traffic is up 98 percent the first two weeks of May over the last two weeks of April, he continued. Short-term rentals are seeing a spike in demand for the summer and August has the strongest lodging bookings for the summer months.

It’s estimated we’ll see a 30 to 50 percent pullback in summer travel.

Cultivating a tourist industry is going to be a team sport this summer with everyone leveraging their contacts and other resources, said Visit Sun Valley Director Scott Fortner. It’s important to be kind and forthcoming about the current situation. And we need to respect others’ comfort level.

Travelers want flexible booking policies right now and no penalties for cancellations, Fortner said. They want assurances that businesses are protecting their health and that the community has adequate health resources. Many also took a financial hit because of the pandemic and are looking for the best bang for their buck.

During the past six weeks, 2,700 Blaine County residents filed unemployment claims, noted Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun valley Economic Development.

 With so many restrictions on operations, restaurants and retailers will have less capacity. We will probably see more second homeowners than tourists and the tourists we see will likely be repeat tourists. Relocations are another potential bright spot, he said. People are tired of living in urban environments and corporations are looking at satellite offices.

“We have to think about how to market to this new norm,” he added.

In other news:

  • Sun Valley Institute Director Aimee Christensen noted that the new Blaine County Recovery Committee was one of the first created in the country. It has established an online presence and is now establishing a physical presence for businesses at The Chamber and one for health at St. Luke’s.
  • Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg noted that a testing strategy that includes contact tracing is vital to reopening the economy successfully. But that as yet has not been established.

    As owner of Shorty’s Diner, however, Greenberg feels confident that businesses are doing the right thing and that people can feel comfortable eating at local restaurants.

    The challenge, he said, will be to educate second homeowners and visitors about what they need to do to keep themselves and residents safe.

  • Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks commended Wood River Valley residents for doing what they needed to do to keep the hospital from collapsing under the strain of dealing with COVID-19. We must continue to be mask aware and respect social distancing so a second wave does not materialize beyond a second ripple, he said.

    “Elected officials want businesses to be successful,” he added. “If you’re successful, our cities and county will be successful.”

  • Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw said we need to go back to the basics of branding this town based on what nature provides, while Ketch’em Alive, Jazz in the Park, Wagon Days and other events take a backseat during the pandemic.

“Sun and open space are the perfect antidotes to an epidemic, and we have both in abundance,” he said, describing how even streets will be closed to facilitate outdoor dining. “Our basic goal is a visitor that feels welcome and a resident that feels safe.”

 

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