The Wood River Valley has every reason to celebrate a good tourism season this past summer and fall, according to nonprofit tourism organization Visit Sun Valley.

In a recent community poll by the organization, 64 percent of valley retailers rated this past summer as “better” than last summer. October saw a 13.9 percent increase from last year in room nights sold, and in July and August, Sun Valley Resort also surged ahead of resorts in other areas in terms of occupancy.

“We actually beat the pack in the summertime as a mountain resort destination in the West,” Visit Sun Valley Executive Director Scott Fortner said during the organization’s biannual community presentation at The Community Library in Ketchum on Wednesday.

The nonprofit—aka the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance—held the event to share recent occupancy statistics, point out areas of improvement and look ahead to a busy winter season with one new development—a spot on Vail’s multi-resort EPIC ski pass.

The EPIC pass provides buyers with unlimited skiing at more than three dozen resorts, including Telluride, Colo., Whistler, British Columbia, and Park City, Utah. But it doesn’t guarantee that people will come to Sun Valley, according to Visit Sun Valley Content Marketing Manager Ray Gadd.

“Folks aren’t just going to show up and flood the streets,” Gadd said. “Vail is not going to do our marketing for us. We really have to make sure that people not only know that we’re on the pass, but also what we have to offer.”

While it remains to be seen how the EPIC pass will impact tourism in Sun Valley, Gadd said the organization has put together a plan to encourage guests to return.

One strategy Visit Sun Valley will use to bolster loyalty is “cherry-picking” the more influential visitors from the crowd and subsequently engaging them with custom ads, he said.

“We have some creepy ways of collecting data,” Gadd said. “We can overlay latitudinal and longitudinal data with the EPIC pass phone app to figure out where people have been traveling.”

Though skiing is currently the valley’s most lucrative business, Gadd said it’s not the only draw for tourism, which is a more than $300 million industry annually in Blaine County that directly encompasses a quarter of all jobs. An increased focus on wellness-related services could help usher in a new generation of people who value their health, especially after the typically stressful holidays, he said. And “wellness” doesn’t just encompass yoga and hot-springs retreats—it could also involve fly fishing or “forest bathing,” the practice of sitting in nature by oneself.

“We need to build out the holistic picture beyond just skiing. I’d encourage local business owners to embrace wellness—what that means to them, and opportunities that lie there,” Gadd said.

A look back

With a fiscal 2020 budget of around $3.1 million, Visit Sun Valley receives more than half its funding from the 1 Percent for Air local-option tax, and the remaining million-plus from the city of Ketchum, city of Sun Valley and Visit Idaho (Idaho Department of Commerce).

This summer and fall, Gadd said, the organization amped up paid partnerships to reach its target demographic of young, well-educated recreationalists and wellness enthusiasts. Those partnerships have included articles by Sunset magazine, Pinkbike.com and Mindbodygreen.com, 30-second spots on NPR podcasts and contracts with Instagram “influencers.”

Contrary to what some may imagine, Gadd said, those influencers aren’t the stereotypical selfie-taking, entitled millennials—they’re passionate travel enthusiasts managed by Inkwell, a firm that makes sure they deliver on impressions and actually go on their trips.

“We’re excited to see the content these individuals will produce,” he said.

At the end of the presentation, Visit Sun Valley Community Relations Manager Aly Swindley said the organization has focused on redesigning its website with a user-friendly EPIC landing page and a more visually appealing calendar, which has a special section for businesses to advertise deals and specials.

“We’re really happy with the new calendar, and we want it to be the most robust one in the valley,” Swindley said.

She added that videos from a new “What We’re Made Of” series featuring impressive drone footage over mountains, fresh snow on Baldy and local restaurants are also available for local businesses to embed on their own websites.

For more information on Visit Sun Valley, call Aly Swindley at 208-725-2104.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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