May 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Tourism Pitch Lands Close To Home Tourism Officials Formulate Advertising Urging Idahoans To Vacation In State

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Sun-swept scenes of Idaho’s outdoors roll across the TV screen. There’s whitewater rafting. Golf. Fly-fishing. Horseback riding by quiet water.

“A lot of vacation, just a short drive away,” boasts the announcer.

Or, in another ad, “This is your backyard. Go out and play!”

With Idaho’s tourism numbers leveling off, state tourism officials are launching some television spots this summer that pitch the state’s recreation and attractions to folks who already live here.

“Idahoans have always made up a huge share of our traveling public - close to 37 percent,” said Georgia Smith, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Commerce. “And they remain the No. 1 source of information. One of the top reasons people come here is to visit their friends and relatives.”

The at-home marketing is a relatively low-budget item. The state spent about $2,500 to put the public service announcements together, and will simply make them available to TV stations that are willing to run them for free.

But with budgets tight for both state and federal agencies, that’s the kind of approach that can pay off.

As Idaho tourism and recreation officials, business leaders, outfitters and others gathered last week for the annual Governor’s Conference on Recreation and Tourism, the focus was on a new strategy that calls for all of them to work together.

The idea is to consider how things like federal land management decisions, a local group’s effort to develop or promote trails, or a city’s park project fit into the overall picture for tourism and recreation.

An example: A plan to develop a database of over-used and over-promoted resources. That way, no one will waste time promoting those, and they can be passed over when it comes to state grants for tourism promotion.

“It’s an effort to do more with less, in a state that has a limited amount of resources,” Smith said.

The in-state public service spots were the brainchild of Post Falls resort owner Bob Templin, who serves on the Idaho Travel Council.

He’s seen North Idaho lodging revenues surge through the early 1990s, but level off in recent years.

Everything from the devaluation of the Canadian dollar to the end of a motel building boom has contributed to the leveling off in North Idaho. But through it all, Idahoans have remained reliable customers at the region’s recreational attractions.

According to a 1996 Department of Commerce study, visitors from out of state spent $7 million on trips to North Idaho ski resorts the previous year, but locals spent a healthy $3.5 million.

And more than half of out-of-staters who came to ski in Idaho made their vacation plans based on information from friends and relatives who live here.

Tourism has been North Idaho’s fastest-growing industry for years. John Hunt, a professor and chairman of the Resource Recreation and Tourism department at the University of Idaho, isn’t ready to write it off.

“I don’t think Idaho is anywhere near its capacity,” Hunt said. “We may be near a capacity that is appealing to us who live here.”

Tourism is North Idaho’s third-largest industry, behind timber and agriculture, according to estimates from the Idaho Department of Labor.

Tourism is likely to continue to be an important industry as North Idaho seeks to diversify its economy, Hunt said. It won’t replace traditional resource-based industries or new ones like high-tech manufacturing.

But, he said, “The more diversified we are as an economy, the more healthy we’re going to be, and less susceptible to downturns.”

Hunt, who did his doctoral thesis on how image affects tourism, said the slowing of North Idaho’s tourism growth may be due in part to perceptions that the area is characterized by hate groups.

“That’s not to say that they’re true,” he said. “But in our business, the tourism business, perception is reality.”

Other factors include the rise in “eco-tourism” all across the country - a type of outdoor-oriented vacationing in which Idaho initially had an edge because of its plentiful recreational attractions.

Also, North Idaho gets more day-trip tourism than other parts of the state, and that’s less of a moneymaker.

Carl Wilgus, state administrator of tourism development, said North Idaho’s tourism boom was kicked off in 1987 by the opening of the Coeur d’Alene Resort. “There hasn’t been anything since of that magnitude,” he said.

But Wilgus noted that North Idaho hasn’t lost the gains made in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Hotel/motel sales in the region in 1996 were nearly twice the 1989 numbers.

Poor weather - including the disastrous ice storm that hit the region this past winter - can affect tourism, but Hunt doesn’t think a rough winter’s weather will spill over into the upcoming summer season.

In what may be small comfort to those still cleaning up from the ravages of the ice storm and later flooding, it turns out that for tourism, it was the right kind of disaster.

“Major catastrophes associated with weather or other natural phenomena do subside much more rapidly than do social catastrophes,” Hunt said. “Social crises like war, terrorism, and riots have greater impact and more lasting impact on tourism than do natural catastrophes like earthquakes, floods, things like that.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Tourism levels off

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO SPENDS THE MONEY? According to a 1996 Department of Commerce study, visitors from out of state spent $7 million on trips to North Idaho ski resorts the previous year, but locals spent a healthy $3.5 million.

Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO SPENDS THE MONEY? According to a 1996 Department of Commerce study, visitors from out of state spent $7 million on trips to North Idaho ski resorts the previous year, but locals spent a healthy $3.5 million.


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