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Tourists may turn to outdoor recreation when COVID-19 restrictions lift.

Tourism, along with everything else in a post-COVID-19 society, will look different.

That’s according to experts in the industry who say that as restrictions lessen, travelers will look to escape into nature rather than travel to densely populated areas for a post-pandemic vacation.

During a teleconference hosted by Idaho Commerce on Thursday, two representatives from tourism advertising agency Madden Media detailed what the industry could look like moving forward, and what tourism-based economies should do to prepare for the changing landscape.

According to company Vice President Addy Coleman and CEO Dan Janes, the months of shelter-at-home orders across the U.S. will lead to a rise in visitors seeking outdoor adventures rather than theme parks in the next six to 12 months. That’s good news for places like Sun Valley, which caters to outdoor enthusiasts, according to Visit Sun Valley Executive Director Scott Fortner.

“It certainly plays in our favor,” Fortner told the Mountain Express on Thursday.

As the marketing arm of Sun Valley and Ketchum, Visit Sun Valley is working closely with business owners, guide companies and local residents to begin crafting campaigns centered around what Idahoans do best: getting outside. While the timeline for when visitors will begin to stream back into the Wood River Valley remains murky, Fortner said that when they do come, businesses will need to be ready.

Visit Sun Valley is providing lists of resources to business owners who are currently hunkered down in their homes creating operational guidelines for what their reopenings will look like, and how they will keep employees and consumers safe.

Most likely, that stream of consumers will begin as a trickle of familiar faces, with second-home owners coming back for their summer vacations followed by repeat visitors who have been #DreamingOfSunValley.

A series of hashtag campaigns launched by Visit Sun Valley since the pandemic hit Idaho were created to spark an “inspiration, dreaming phase,” Fortner said.

Other hashtages include #SunValleyOnMyMind, #VisitSunValleyLater and #SeekSunValley. Those marketing efforts aim to remind former visitors that even though the resort town may be closed for now, rescheduling vacations rather than canceling is the better option.

Some have already done that, Fortner said, with vacationers who planned to come for Bald Mountain’s closing weekend rescheduling trips to next winter.

The key is to remain flexible and minimize risk, Fortner said, as lodging and reservations try to limit or eliminate any restrictions that would normally keep someone from booking a guide or a hotel room.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they will stay in a hotel in the next six months, and nearly 50 percent say they will fly in the next six months, according to data provided by Madden Media during Thursday’s teleconference.

That said, for now Visit Sun Valley will focus its energies on “drive markets”—visitors driving from Salt Lake City, Boise, Twin Falls or cities farther away such as a Seattle and Los Angeles. Looking ahead, it will also be interesting to note whether those who come annually for legacy events, such as the Wagon Days Parade and Trailing of the Sheep Festival in the fall, will continue to come, Fortner said. Whether those traditional events will go on as scheduled remains to be seen.

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