For tourism destinations like Sun Valley, events are more than opportunities for gathering and celebration — they mean the promise of flights touched down, hotel rooms booked and meals eaten at local establishments.
Some of the Wood River Valley's biggest events won't happen this summer due to COVID-19, including the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, the Hailey Days of the Old West Rodeo and the Allen & Co. summit.
That's contributing to a $500,000 to $1 million revenue shortfall for the city of Ketchum. Ketchum collects tax revenue from hotel visits and short-term rental stays under 30 days, as well as liquor and retail sales, under its local option tax available to Idaho's resort cities. But the city is projecting that piece of the general fund will be down 10-22% due to a drop in tourism.
As a result, Ketchum is trimming its spending, cancelling a summertime live music series and downscaling the annual Wagon Days festivities.
Without being able to rely on events, the area's marketing experts are thinking about how to attract visitors and revenue, while keeping everyone safe. They're starting with highlighting, perhaps obviously, the outdoors.
“The mountains and the rivers attracted us here, kept us here, and are now intrinsic to what will help us through these unprecedented times," said Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw during a webinar on Wednesday hosted by the marketing organization, Visit Sun Valley.
Open space, Visit Sun Valley Marketing Director Ray Gadd said, is what people in cities are craving now.
Sun Valley Resort's Bald Mountain will be open in June for hiking and mountain biking, and the company's manager said while they've seen a dip in group sales, there's been a bit of an uptick in individual and family sales.
Harry Griffith the Sun Valley Economic Development Director said he expects to see younger visitors who might perceive less risk from the virus. Close friends and family of residents, and second homeowners, might be more likely to come, too, as they're familiar with the area, he said.
“Second homeowners are a bright spot in our future," Griffith said. "We're probably going to see more of them this summer, which is good, because we're going to see fewer pure tourists.”
The marketing organization and city leaders also emphasized the need to let prospective travelers know how local businesses are working to keep patrons safe. And they said the community should be prepared that their eagerness to reopen and serve customers might not perfectly align with when people from other areas are ready to travel.
Blaine County once had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 per capita in the U.S., but now the South Central Public Health District says it's only monitoring seven positive cases in the county; 502 cases are presumed to be recovered.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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