20-05-22 Limelight Hotel 2 WF

William Sanchez, right, and Kris Gilarowski check in guests at The Limelight Hotel in Ketchum on Thursday, May 21, its first day back since closing for the pandemic. The hotel had 12 rooms booked on opening night.

As cities across the U.S. assess damage from the coronavirus—both to people’s health and to the economy—Sun Valley and Ketchum are making plans to go back to basics.

That was the message from Visit Sun Valley—the marketing arm of both cities—during a community webinar on Wednesday. There, Executive Director Scott Fortner and Marketing Director Ray Gadd presented a phased marketing strategy that will be used to lure visitors, whenever they’ll be ready to return.

Tourism is the third largest industry in the state and makes up 25 percent of the job market in Blaine County, according to Fortner. On average, it generates $29.5 million is generated in tax dollars annually through business and city local-option taxes. That revenue is mostly generated between June and September, leaving this summer’s economic outlook grim.

The bright side is that winter business was strong, with higher revenues across the board in comparison to last year and a 34 percent increase in LOT revenue in February alone in Ketchum.

Everything was “trending in the right way,” Fortner said, “until it wasn’t.”

Since the outbreak, expectations have changed. So has the tourist market. Fortner expects a significant decrease in demand for and confidence in air travel, with a higher probability for road trips this season. With that in mind, Visit Sun Valley is directing additional marketing efforts toward an expanded range of “drive markets.” Typically, those include Boise, Twin Falls and Salt Lake City. Now, due to the fears around air travel, it also includes California, Oregon and Washington.

Fortner said the most likely group of travelers will be younger ones, between 18 and 34, and that beyond second-home owners and drive-market travelers, Visit Sun Valley plans to also target wellness seekers and mountain bikers. Ultimately, he said, it will be up to retail stores, restaurants, hotels and rental companies to keep the perspective of travel appealing by offering good deals and cutting penalties for cancellations.

“We’re going back to basics,” Gadd said.

When people do come, whether they be second-home owners, returning tourists or first-time guests, Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said visitors should be informed of county and city guidelines. Any guidelines using the word “should” ought be considered as “shall,” he said, as in people “shall” maintain 6 feet of social distance.

“I look forward to prosperous times,” Greenberg said.

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw reiterated the importance of keeping a healthy community as visitors return.

“This is not a place for a virus vacation,” Bradshaw said, echoing a rallying cry from the early days of the outbreak. Like Greenberg, Bradshaw said he hopes that guests will respect retail and restaurant protocols along with any city, county or state orders.

Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva said the resort is “slowly starting to come back to life,” with a few stores in The Village open and more to be open soon. Sun Valley Lodge is scheduled to open on May 30 with a stronger focus on the resort’s open spaces to allow for outdoor dining and social distancing.

Bald Mountain is scheduled to open in June with both the gondola and Christmas lift running and the Roundhouse opening for lunch. Whether mountain bikes will be able to catch a ride on the gondola has yet to be decided, Silva said, with concerns about safety and difficulties maintaining social distance.

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