Idaho tourism struggles in 2021, hopeful for winter

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Idaho was only at the start of its ‘Fall for Idaho’ tourism campaign when crisis care standards were declared statewide due to hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients – and the state has slowed down.

The marketing campaign was put on hiatus for a month. “Things are moving fast. We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments over the past 18 or 19 months, ”said Matt Borud, Marketing and Innovation Administrator for the Idaho Department of Commerce. “To understand what was going on, we thought it was safe for us to suspend the campaign.”

The planned $ 800,000 fall campaign, which focused primarily on digital marketing of Idaho’s outdoor adventures, began on September 13, ended on September 16, and then restarted on October 13. largely on ski season, launches Nov. 8.

Adapt to change

The stop-and-start is emblematic of what tourism marketers have faced in the country and around the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We haven’t really done the ‘Everybody’s coming to Idaho,’ that sort of thing, really since COVID,” Borud said. “Not a lot of destinations have it. It’s a difficult message right now.

Instead, Idaho has focused on marketing its outdoor experiences and road trips, which have long been a big part of Idaho’s tourist draw. “It’s our bread and our butter,” Borud said. “This is what people travel around the state primarily to experience.”

It’s working well: Tax revenues for Idaho hotels / motels, which were hit hard during the shutdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, have now rebounded beyond pre-pandemic levels.

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“I think Idaho is in a truly unique place when it comes to tourism dynamics,” said Professor Nathan Line, distinguished professor Cecil B. Day at the Dedman School of Hospitality at Florida State University. “On the one hand, you have the tourism industry, which wants to promote tourism. You have visitors, both in-state and out-of-state, who want to visit Idaho. And then you have a completely overwhelmed medical community. And there are a few fine lines as to the extent to which it would make sense to spend money to widely promote the state of Idaho, bringing in more people who could potentially be sick and have nowhere. where to go. What if they get into a car accident? It may not be related to COVID at all. “

But Line said it “makes sense” to promote “all the great things Idaho has to do that are inherently socially distanced,” while also noting COVID protocols. And that’s exactly what Idaho is doing.

“When I think of tourism in Idaho, I don’t think of big sporting events and big cities,” Line said. “As a foreigner, if I think of Idaho, I think of being outdoors, I think of hiking, skiing. … The advantage is that these are activities that tourists can do relatively safely. So I think it makes perfect sense to continue promoting tourism in Idaho.

Big deal

The swans of the valley of the sun
Swans at the Sun Valley Resort. Photo: Don Day / BoiseDev

Tourism is Idaho’s third largest industry, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. The US Travel Association estimates that Idaho’s $ 3.7 billion tourism industry employs more than 45,800 Idahoans.

Borud said Idaho typically has three major tourism promotions per year; autumn is the smallest. The winter campaign is budgeted at approximately $ 1.1 million; summer is the biggest, at $ 2.8 million. Funding comes directly from the state’s 2% lodging tax.

Like most other businesses, tourism plunged deep when the pandemic hit Idaho in March 2020. But the summer of 2020 has become known as “the summer of the road trip,” Borud said, as travelers COVID-conscious were avoiding stealing and other masses. transit in favor of staying in their own car. “It has gone really well for us as well, because road trips are a big draw for visitors to Idaho,” he said. “It gave us the opportunity to promote our scenic routes” and our attractions along the way “

In October 2020, monthly tourist tax collections in Idaho eclipsed pre-2019 pandemic levels. “This was the first time we have shown monthly year-over-year growth since the start. pandemic, ”Borud said. “We were up in October and November, still down a bit in December-January. But really from around February we went up.

For the fiscal year which began on July 1, “We are up 65% from our last fiscal year and 36% from fiscal 2019,” Borud said.

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Boise center rebound

Boise Center-East
The Boise Center in Boise, ID. Photo: Don Day / BoiseDev file

The Boise Center, the downtown Boise convention center operated by the Greater Boise Auditorium District, saw a huge drop in convention and business travel when the pandemic struck. “Recreation (travel) is what got us through summer-fall 2020, as well as spring 21, and frankly all summer,” said Patrick Rice, executive director of the Boise Center. “The number of recreation across the state practically broke records during the pandemic in eastern and northern Idaho, but not here. Our region has experienced… the largest drop in taxable income during the pandemic months. “

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After the entire shutdown on March 13, 2020, Rice said the Boise Center had turned into a warehouse and food distribution site for the Idaho Food Bank. It wasn’t until August that he held his first convention after that.

Shifting gears as the pandemic worsened in Idaho in the fall of 2020 and limits on the size of gatherings revived, the Boise Center has set up a “virtual studio” to host online conventions . “It was very popular,” Rice said. “The studio was very well done, and a lot of companies took advantage of it.

From February to March this year, with the approval of the local health district, the center turned to organizing joy and dance competitions. “We’ve never been a market for it,” Rice said. “We don’t have changing rooms, showers, make-up areas and that sort of thing, but the groups wanted to use the building and they took great care of it.”

Boise Center
The Boise Center and Grove Plaza in February. Photo: Fête du Don

This spring, the center began arguing that it was open and touting its cleaning protocols, the expensive thermal imaging scanners it acquired that can accurately check the temperatures of three people per second and other COVID security protocols.

“We give customers the flexibility, whatever protocols they want to put in place,” while meeting all local and Centers for Disease Control requirements, Rice said. The Boise Center was the first Idaho company to achieve Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) accreditation for high standards of cleanliness and maintenance, which it received in December 2020.

Convention activities started to return over the summer and just over a week ago the Boise Center hosted the Boise Metro Chamber Gala with over 500 people. At the request of the group, participants were seated at tables of six, rather than the standard 10, for more physical distancing.

“We’ve had a few bands that have argued this fall,” Rice said, including some national conventions that were called off “just because the Delta variant is what it is”. The Festival of Trees, a big winter break event, has been canceled, as have Christmas parties for some local groups.

But for the most part, he said, the center has been occupied. The conventions have “not returned to where they were in 2019, but I can tell you that in 2022, at least in the books, it is a record year”.

“Everything is a big ‘if’ right now,” Rice noted. “We’ll see what happens.”

Hope for what is to come

Borud said the money that was not spent during the month-long hiatus in the state’s fall tourism marketing program is not wasted; it is postponed until later in the year.

“People might be talking about some of the conditions in La Niña, a little wetter, a little warmer which is sometimes the case when we have a longer ski season,” he said. “If our ski season runs into March or even April, that’s a potential use – to maybe extend our winter campaign a bit.”

Rice said her sales team has been attending trade shows and marketing meetings since June. “Boise is a very, very hot market right now,” he said. “People want to come here. Conventions are already booked for 2023 and 2024, he said. “2023 is already starting to look like a very good year. “

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