There’s a new sheriff in town calling the shots for tourism marketing in Kootenai County.
In the space of three months, the balance of power in tourism marketing has switched from Coeur d’Alene to Post Falls.
Post Falls Tourism, once an offshoot of the chamber of commerce there, now calls itself the Kootenai County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Backed by the Factory Outlets mall and Post Falls hotelier Bob Templin, it has laid claim as the pre-eminent tourism advertising and visitor center group.
Meanwhile, 10 miles to the east, Coeur d’Alene’s Convention and Visitor Bureau died a quiet death in December, folding back into a Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce committee which meets once a month.
The Coeur d’Alene Convention and Visitor Bureau once handled the bulk of the county’s tourism promotion needs. It was awarded the lion’s share of private and public money used to market the area.
But when the Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park closed last year, the major funding source dried up for the bureau. Both Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene had received a cut from stakes wagered at the park.
After the park closed, Post Falls Tourism saw its chance. With Templin named to the Idaho Travel Council, the group received twice as much public grant money in 1995 as it had the previous year. Post Falls Tourism acquired its new name and moved quickly on its plans for a shiny new visitor center at the Factory Outlets mall.
That’s just the beginning, said Nancy DiGiammarco, the Kootenai County Convention & Visitors Bureau director. Her board of directors will double to 18, including members from Harrison, Bayview and other spots around the county to back up its name.
None of the new board members will be from the Coeur d’Alene chamber tourism effort, although DiGiammarco expects other Coeur d’Alene tourism businesses to participate in her agency.
Stacy Becker, the chamber staff person for the tourism development committee, said Thursday that she hadn’t heard of the new board expansion in Post Falls.
Templin said he wants to avoid duplication between Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Post Falls tourism leaders have met with the Coeur d’Alene side, and while both groups say they want a merger, a marriage seems highly unlikely.
A six-member group appointed last month to bridge the rift between Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls hasn’t met, and sources close to the committee say there’s little interest now in making a deal. At a January meeting with county commissioners, neither side could agree on exactly who would run a unified agency or how it would work.
Meanwhile, Post Falls continues to establish itself as the marketing leader. By the spring, DiGiammarco will have corporate backing to place six kiosks at separate county entrances that will feature brochures and photo displays of the county. That will complement her two full-sized visitor centers in Post Falls.
For corporate tourism contributors such as Washington Water Power Co., the sea change in tourism agencies hasn’t created what they hoped for: a single tourism agency to get the most bang from the tourism buck.
“If it becomes clear that (Post Falls) is the de facto group for Kootenai County, we would feel comfortable contributing to it,” said Paul Anderson, general manager for the power company’s North Idaho operations. “I still really do hope that they’re able to come together.”
Becker’s committee hopes to use an empty building on Northwest Boulevard offered by the Kootenai County commissioners as a visitor center, although nothing has been settled.
Both Becker and DiGiammarco point toward a March 28 tourism summit at Templin’s Resort in Post Falls where tourism operators and marketers from around North Idaho hope to fashion a unified marketing plan.
It appears, however, that much of the new Kootenai County bureau’s plan already is in place.