Continued investment in air service and marketing will be key to economic recovery this winter, two local agencies said on Wednesday.
By implementing a few tweaks to their summer and fall marketing strategies, both Visit Sun Valley and the Fly Sun Valley Alliance are hopeful that the Sun Valley Resort will fare better this winter than more traditionally packed resorts in the West.
According to Visit Sun Valley Executive Director Scott Fortner, one of Sun Valley’s main assets to leverage this fall during a likely ongoing COVID-19 situation is its reputation as a less-crowded ski destination. Promoting the resort’s Cold Springs terrain expansion project—on track for completion before opening day—could help bolster that perception and put Sun Valley higher up on skiers’ lists, he said.
“As a destination, we don’t get as many people as our competitors do. We’re not thought of as overly crowded at any point in the season,” Fortner said during a presentation to the Sun Valley Air Service Board on Wednesday. “That’s certainly an opportunity to use to our advantage as people begin to pick and choose where they’ll go.”
In addition to targeting past visitors in its winter marketing plan, Visit Sun Valley will engage a more regional audience, Fortner said. That group includes recent newcomers to town and city-dwellers in the West looking to escape their urban environments, he said.
“This summer has been very interesting. We’ve seen a lot more seasonal visitors and second homeowners—people are staying longer, having a deeper experience here and thinking ‘this may be the place for me,’ whether seasonal or full-time,” he said.
Fortner reiterated that an important marketing strategy for Visit Sun Valley will be appealing to visitors with a “pent-up desire” for freedom.
“Internally, we coin these people as ‘escapees.’ We’ve got to be ready to capture that demand to get out,” he said.
Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw said he’s seen an influx of urbanites coming into Ketchum to enjoy its recreational opportunities during the COVID outbreak.
“There’s no question there’s an exodus of people from cities now,” he said. “We’re attracting escapees, and that’s OK, but it’s a different model to work with.”
Fortner emphasized that Visit Sun Valley’s upcoming marketing campaigns will not be inviting people to a “big party.” Rather, he said, they’ll focus on what makes Sun Valley what it is.
“We don’t have to change our community to accommodate newcomers. They can cherry-pick which experiences they want to have,” he said.
Planning put on hold
According to Fortner, one of the resort’s many strengths is its solid air transportation system, bolstered by the Fly Sun Valley Alliance. But new visitors to town this summer may not commit to returning in the winter if they don’t know what air-service options they have, he said.
“Knowing that we have great outbound service is going to be important,” he said.
Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller said many passengers, including past visitors to the resort, have air credits from flights they had to cancel earlier this year. To encourage people to use some of these credits, she said, the alliance will maintain core routes to and from Friedman Memorial Airport and work to minimize COVID-19 risk.
The alliance will also use results from its summer 2020 passenger survey to better understand where people have been coming from, Waller said. That information will be especially important as flight bookings, though briefly up in July, begin to drop off again.
Unlike previous years, airline schedules and contracts are still being negotiated, Waller said.
“We’re a little bit behind now. Usually by July we have things all set, but airlines are doing much more short-term planning, which is pushing our planning back,” she said. “Nobody’s operating under a typical scenario.”
In terms of budgeting, both the Fly Sun Valley Alliance and Visit Sun Valley will be taking a conservative and prudent approach this year.
“We expect to use some reserves in fiscal 2021 due to lost revenue,” Waller said.
Fortner said Visit Sun Valley will likely be contracting with smaller “niche” social media influencers and exploring new media such as podcasts. It remains to be seen how pandemic-driven social media use will affect the upfront cost of doing paid ads or stories with influencers and magazines, he said.
“We’ll probably go from buying one big [ad] that lasts a while, to a bunch of smaller ones,” he said.
Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks stressed the vital role of marketing in the valley and encouraged both agencies to remain “flexible and nimble” during the pandemic.
“This is a time to continue, not stop, spending dollars on marketing,” he said.