The grim news coming out of last week’s marketing forum and reported by the Express (April 12, “Consultant: Sun Valley lags behind competition in winter”) raises more questions and concerns for the economic vitality of the valley and our community.
While we all agree that Sun Valley offers world-class skiing and first-class experiences, the question is, why aren’t we getting our fair share (and more) of the skiers and visitors during the peak winter season? The Express article warns against a potential cut to the marketing budget that comes from several sources: an original LOT Ketchum tax, the 1 Percent for Air tax from all three cities, the city of Sun Valley contribution and the Idaho Travel Council contribution, which total $2,390,000. While throwing more marketing dollars to promote Sun Valley could not hurt, given the fact that we have fewer beds to fill (our primary objective) versus other ski resorts, our current marketing budget seems reasonable.
Perhaps looking at other factors rather than contributing more marketing dollars would make sense. Let me offer some of my own (through experiences) ideas:
- Consistency of messaging. Since the inception of Visit Sun Valley, the consumer has seen a multitude of brand-positioning messages ranging from the “original and authentic” to what is now promoted as “where wilderness and adventure meet community and culture.” Already at a loss in terms of brand awareness and name recognition, Visit Sun Valley should stick with a consistent message over time so we start to build equity in our marketing efforts.
- Spending in the right markets. Lots of research has been conducted to provide insight into where our visitors come from. The airline feeder markets are the first line of offense given the contribution made by the Fly Sun Valley Alliance to open up current and new markets. Don’t ignore our own backyard markets (Boise, Twin Falls and Pocatello) as natural extensions to the market spend.
- Think strategically, act creatively. Our aging population, both in skiers and in the community, is both a short- and long-term problem. When was the last time Visit Sun Valley conducted a focus group among millennials in one of our feeder markets (e.g. Seattle) to find out what motivates them to ski in other places other than Sun Valley and explored other marketing tools to lure them? We can’t and shouldn’t ignore the largest segment of our overall population and capture a share of their business.
- On- and off-mountain experiences. What are the key factors consumers are looking for when they book a ski vacation? Are we offering them a total experience equal to or better than other resorts in terms of events, attractions, food and beverage, and shopping (staying open late?). What is the next big idea in terms of visitor appeals to a ski resort?
It seems to me the marketing dollars we’ve spent since the inception of Visit Sun Valley (now more than eight years) has barely moved the needle based on what we saw at the recent marketing forum (in fact, Ketchum’s contribution has nearly doubled in the past five years since the 1 percent tax). We need to do something about this now with new innovative marketing thinking, consumer research and better cooperation between our communities and Sun Valley Co. before it’s too late. This has broad implications for the economic welfare of the community in terms of jobs, housing, retail establishments, cultural events and the overall well-being of our valley.
Warren Benjamin is a marketing consultant and full-time resident of Ketchum.