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Sun Valley Looking for That Next Generation
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Locals and visitors value the serenity, beauty and easy access to outdoor recreation that the Sun Valley area offers.
   
Friday, November 18, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

“Now seeking renegades…mamas and papas…wanderers…and yogis.”

That’s the message Visit Sun Valley is putting out this winter as it targets visitors who fit the ideal profile for the valley.

The valley needs to find the next generation of visitors who love, respect and embrace what Sun Valley has to offer from its outdoor environment to its arts and culture and authentic community, said Scott Fortner, director of Visit Sun Valley. The ideal visitor is one who joins with locals in taking care of the environment and adds to, rather than detracts, from the area.

 
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Enplanements at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey have climbed since 2020 when the airport was closed during the pandemic.
 

Fortner and Ray Gadd, Visit Sun Valley’s director of marketing, addressed about 75 people during the semi-annual Visit Sun Valley community meeting Wednesday afternoon at Ketchum’s Limelight Hotel.

Fortner said that the community is still seeing “significant growth” following the pandemic. As a result, Visit Sun Valley no longer sees the need to create additional demand but, rather, mange the level that’s appropriate for the Sun Valley community.

That means focusing on the quality of the environment, residents’ lives, the local economy and visitors and their experiences.

Fortner said visitors come to Sun Valley lured by the locals’ mantra: “Your vacation is my life.” People want a piece of that, he said. They come for the outdoor offerings and become hooked on the small-town charm and people, and they return. Ready access to outdoor recreation and arts and culture keeps them here, turning some into full-time or second-home residents.

 
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Sales in Blaine County are on the upswing since a brief dip during the early days of the pandemic.
 

Fortner noted that locals responding to Visit Sun Valley’s quality of life survey said the things contributing most to their quality of life include access to free or low-cost events, public transportation options, a welcoming community where tourism is important but not the most important thing, arts and culture, free access to open spaces, small wait times and preservation of small businesses.

One local noted: “My pride comes from Ketchum and the valley being a small-town community, basically no chain store, being able to see the unobstructed mountain/hill views so close, and how PEACEFUL it is.”

Another wrote: “I think it’s the people who live, work and those in the service industry, who are down-to-earth are what make this town.”

“It is small town living at its finest with some of the coolest local amenities I’ve ever experienced,” added a third. “Rotarun is simply incredible and invaluable for family fun and recreation. The rodeo grounds, ice rink and outdoor park rink in Ketchum are wonderful for families as well as for ice skating, pick-up hockey games. The continued trail building and new bike park/pump track in Hailey are so much fun. And the BCRD pool in Hailey is heavenly during the summer. I am honored and grateful for the decision makers who are putting an emphasis on wholesome recreation developments around the valley.”

 
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Non-residents make up 75 percent of the Local Option Tax through the purchase of lodging and such things as alcohol.
 

 

While business travel has not rebounded from the pandemic, people will continue to travel, Fortner said. And Sun Valley does well at attracting travelers who come here for multiple reasons and stay longer than the tourist who comes for one reason and stays only a short time.

“We need to show the breadth of this place to encourage people to spend more time and more money,” he said. “And we need to spread visitation across the year. We want to develop a long-term plan for tourism that promotes economic vitality, is sustainable and balances with the quality of life.”

Fortner offered his mantra: “If you work towards a place where people want to visit, you create a place where people want to live. If you work towards a place where people want to live, you’ll create a place where people want to work. If you work towards a place where people want to work, you’ll create a place where business needs to be. if you work towards a place where business needs to be, you’ll create a place where people have to visit.”

 
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Lodging occupancy did not reach pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
 

Gadd said that the short-term is challenging to predict as the world evolves from month to month while emerging from the pandemic.

Threats that could impact a robust tourism season this winter include inflation and concerns about a recession, employees returning to the office, people preferring to travel overseas given the strong dollar, the reshuffling of the workforce and the rising costs to do business. Long-time repeat visitors are aging and leaving a potential vacuum if there’s not a next generation to step in and fill that vacuum, he added.

Sun Valley Resort’s No. 1 ranking among SKI Magazine readers for the third year in a row should give tourism a boost this winter. And Sun Valley Resort’s alliance with the IKON and Mountain Collective should introduce a new bunch of skiers to America’s first ski destination resort.

The resort is getting nonstop lights from six major cities, and has increased the frequency of some flights with Denver offering two daily flights and Chicago offering daily service all winter long except for January when it goes to two days a week.

A new LPV instrument approach at Friedman Memorial Airport kept 180 flights from being diverted to Twin Falls during inclement last winter, negating the need for a busing program. Mountain Rides has added an 11 a.m. drop at the airport.

Gadd reviewed a quote in SKI Magazine about Sun Valley: “It’s about as welcoming and authentic as it gets…and when the ski lifts stop for the day, there’s so much more to do.”

Current travel trends:

  • Active Travel appealing to those interested in natural beauty, outdoor activity, escapism, privacy and new destinations.
  • Lesser Known Destination where it’s not obvious where to stay, visit, bike and hike.
  • Multi-generational trips involving post-COVID personal gatherings, such as anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, graduations and holidays.
  • Local Experiences appealing to those who want to live like a local and dig into the history, culture, and food, while getting to know the people.
  • Unique Lodging and Loner Stays appealing to those who want to escape the chain experiences and take time to learn all that a destination has to offer.
  • Food, as in simple food, local specialties and healthy food.

    Gadd said that Visit Sun Valley can build a suggested itinerary for visitors using platforms like Google to learn of their interests.

    “We want to lure the next generation by telling stories about the area that present us as a destination year-round,” he added.

    DID YOU KNOW?

  • Visit Sun Valley has added a new information kiosk at the Visitor Center in the Starbucks building.
  • Visit Sun Valley asked for no tax dollars from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley for 2023. It receives 77 percent of its funding from Sun Valley Air Service and 23 percent from the Idaho Travel Council.
  • Sun Valley gets $286,000,000 a year in direct spending from travel, and $145,300,000 in direct earnings, according to the Idaho Travel Council in 2020.

The Council said the tourism industry employs 5,200 locals directly. It supplies $28,500,000 in direct taxes.

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