January 11, 1998 in Nation/World

Forging New Ties Tourism Organizations, Big Business Teaming Up To Gain Added Leverage

David Gunter Staff writer
 

The signs - their signs - are everywhere.

Corporations worldwide have discovered strategic partnerships with the public sector offer inroads to untapped markets.

The sports world is familiar turf for these partnerships. Many arenas and ballparks now bear corporate names.

Classic bowl games now have sponsors attached - including the FedEx Orange Bowl, Nokia Sugar Bowl, Chick-A-Fil Peach Bowl, Toyota Gator Bowl, and Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl.

Within the past three years, corporations increasingly have found a new advertising partner in the tourism industry.

Cash-strapped state agencies and regional travel bureaus welcome the arrival of wealthy allies. And the corporate sponsors are happy to have something fresh on which to hang their logos.

And in tourism, nothing seems fresher than the Inland Northwest.

Strategic alliances

“Public-private partnerships are going to continue, especially in states where public agencies can’t afford to take all the responsibility on themselves,” said Carl Wilgus, director of the Idaho Travel Council.

“Will we see ‘Yellowstone National Park - brought to you by McDonald’s?”’ he asked. “I don’t think it will be that distasteful. But in subtle ways, things like that have to happen.”

Because of lower tourism funding, more competition and higher promotional costs, Northwest states are embracing partnerships with big business. Idaho, for example, contracts with airlines, lodging chains and rental car companies to promote international travel.

In Washington, a similar alliance funded the state’s first travel-related television spot in 10 years.

Robin Pollard, director of the Washington State Tourism Division, calls the arrangements “enhancing and leveraging state resources.”

“It’s a trend that you see across the country,” Pollard said, adding that Northwest Airlines recently paid $175,000 for a joint television spot targeting flights from Northern California to Washington. “We couldn’t have done that program without a corporate sponsor.”

Eastern Washington hopes to profit as other airlines get in on the act, according to Hartly Kruger, president and chief executive officer of the Spokane Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We’re partnering with the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau in a marketing effort focusing on England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Belgium,” he said.

Northwest Airlines and British Airways are corporate sponsors and hope to gain ticket sales. In promoting the regional Silver Country, Kruger’s nonprofit visitor bureau is aligned with the for-profit Silver Country tourism effort.

Success story in Silver Country

Tom Magnuson returned to his home town in the mid-1980s, when Wallace was a boom town gone bust after the effects of mine closures tumbled like dominoes through the Silver Valley. Drawing on the town’s history and a virtually intact downtown district, Magnuson first attempted to sell “Historic Wallace” as a must-see attraction. He turned out stacks of brochures and press releases. He greeted coach tours and led the passengers around town.

But for the most part, Wallace was a quaint curiosity, a full-scale, turn-of-the-century train set viewed in passing from the Interstate 90 overpass.

Nearby Kellogg was still trying to attract tourists with a gondola and a faux-Bavarian theme, ala Leavenworth, Wash. In Sandpoint, Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s dream was to be a world-class ski destination, maybe the next Vail, Colo.

Instead of pushing Wallace as something brand new, Magnuson set out to make it a brand name.

“A brand name in a brand name world,” he said. “We put together a band of thousands of volunteers and came up with the idea of creating a monster trail system that would be the centerpiece for something larger - a sort of eco-Disneyland that takes in the whole region.”

Stretching from Spokane to Missoula, “Silver Country” has a big “footprint.”

Magnuson said thinking big was critical, because without something to distinguish the region from other Northwest locations, Silver Country risked becoming a “mountain commodity” - one more pretty place that could be found anywhere in the Rockies.

“You can either surrender yourself to those forces or reposition yourself as the biggest, the best, or the most unique and find out who your partners are,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Isuzu heard about Silver Country from Yamaha. Coca-Cola noticed the increases in snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle use in the Silver Valley and joined a strategic alliance with Best Western International to promote snowmobile tours.

The name Silver Country is “spreading on the corporate bulletin board,” said Bryon Farnsworth, who works in public relations at American Isuzu Motors.

“Whether it’s a fishing pole, a line of clothing or a new vehicle, corporations are becoming interested in using that area to introduce products to the rest of the United States,” Farnsworth said.

Isuzu rolled out its 1998 Rodeo sport utility vehicle in North Idaho in June 1997. The highlight of that promotion was taking 30 automotive writers on an off-road romp through the trails of Silver Country. Along the way, Isuzu shot advertising photographs and footage for trade shows and dealer training videos. Farnsworth rated the venture a success, saying press writers have asked him when Isuzu plans to return to the area.

In December, Coca-Cola became “the official soft drink of Silver Country.” Silver Country thus gets access to Coke’s global marketing reach and the soft drink company lands a new promotional tool.

The partnership will last “as long as it’s working for all parties involved,” said Andy Alvarez, sales center manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Spokane.

“Something like this improves our ability to bring tourism promotion ideas to new areas and promote our products at the same time,” he said.

It didn’t hurt that the Magnuson family owns the Best Western Wallace Inn, but Wayne Wielgus, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for Best Western International, said the Silver Country concept was what prompted his corporation to join Coca-Cola and other regional partners to sell guided snowmobile outings this season.

“We associate ourselves with brand names like Warner Bros. and D.C. Comics,” Wielgus said. “We look at Silver Country as a tourism brand name.”

Best Western believes the alliance could result in more reservations at up to 200 lodging properties, including hotels in Silver Country, “as well as hotels that feed into that area,” Wielgus said.

The dream that nearly died

Had it not been for the support of former Idaho Travel Council Chair Lorraine Bowman, the 1,000-mile trail system might have hit a dead-end in 1995.

Bowman, who until recently operated Connie’s motel in Sandpoint, fought for $25,000 in seed money to get the project going.

“Without that, it would have been one of those coffee klatch ideas you draw on a napkin that dies as soon as everybody goes back to work,” Magnuson said.

“I tried to get them more money, but politics being what they are, I was lucky to get them anything,” Bowman said. “Carl Wilgus didn’t like snowmobiles. His reaction to giving money to snowmobilers was that it was catering to a blue-collar, six-pack crowd.

“Wallace didn’t get much, so Tom went out on his own, pulled all of these people together from Montana and Eastern Washington and got the corporate sponsors in place,” she added. “Now they’ve got some of the big boys over there who are enthusiastic and more than willing to invest their money.”

In an informal meeting with two leaders of the North Idaho Tourism Alliance, Magnuson recently was asked to bring his for-profit school of thought into the nonprofit realm.

Jonathan Coe, executive director of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, attended the meeting. So did Nancy DiGiammarco, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Convention & Visitor Bureau. Both Coe and DiGiammarco have some experience in corporate partnerships.

In Sandpoint, GMC Trucks signed on as the 1996 Winter Carnival sponsor. The promotional TV spots provided “$40,000 of free advertising we couldn’t have paid for out of the petty cash drawer,” Coe said.

DiGiammarco has combined the efforts of her office with corporate dollars in everything from magazine advertising to bulk mailing.

North Idaho Tourism Alliance officials don’t fear competition from Silver Country; rather, they look forward to more attention from corporations that see the region as one big promotional playground.

“If (Magnuson) can put together new packages to reach new markets, I say more power to him,” Coe said.

“When you sell one community, you sell the area,” DiGiammarco said, adding that Coeur d’Alene already has brand-name recognition due to the lake, the resort and its golf course. “People may come to play the floating green, but an avid golfer is going to want to play other courses around here,” she said.

Part of the attraction to corporations is the region’s reputation for being undiscovered.

“Because Eastern Washington and North Idaho are still largely unknown products, we can market that to our advantage,” said Pollard. “That’s part of the mystery. We just don’t want to be so mysterious that people don’t know how to find us.”

Isuzu’s Farnsworth says that’s where big business comes in. No matter how good the tourism product, he said, the only thing that will sell it is the kind of advertising made possible by corporate partnerships.

“Sure, it sounds commercial,” Farnsworth said, “but the cost of media is what keeps the message from getting out.

“If you can’t afford to tell people about something, it’s always going to remain a secret.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

2 Graphics: 1. Tourism-related travel spending

2. Tourism-related economic impact

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

A SILVER LINING

Here are some milestones in the evolution of the Silver Country tourism promotion initiative:

April 1995 - Tom Magnuson canvases North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Western Montana to sell the idea of combining a fragmented network of U.S. Forest Service trails into a continuous 1,000-mile riding area called Silver Country.

July 1995 - Despite resistance from Idaho Travel Council Director Carl Wilgus, Silver Country ekes out a $25,000 grant as seed money for the project.

December 1995 - The trail system opens for the snowmobiling season, offering trail heads in a dozen towns in North Idaho and Western Montana.

January 1996 - The New York Times features Silver Country in a Sunday travel section, resulting in more than 3,000 inquiries the following week. USA Today, The Washington Post and 20 other major newspapers run feature articles later that month.

January 1996 - SnoWest Magazine describes Silver Country as “challenging West Yellowstone as the snowmobiling capital of the world.”

June 1996 - A leading ATV publication, 4-Wheel Action, names Silver Country “the world’s largest ATV trail system” at the beginning of the summer riding season.

August 1996 - Yamaha introduces its 1997 line of ATVs in Silver Country with an advertising theme based on “one of the world’s greatest riding areas.”

June 1997 - American Isuzu Motor Corp. rolls out its 1998 Rodeo sport utility vehicle in North Idaho, hosting 30 national press representatives on off-road excursions into Silver Country.

December 1997 - Coca-Cola and Best Western International form a strategic alliance with Silver Country to promote Silver Country Tours. Other corporate partners include Spokane Yamaha, Dave Smith Motors, Albertson’s and Super 1 Foods.

December 1997 - Chevy Outdoors Magazine names Silver Country among the top three in the “West’s best snowmobile trails.” Also listed are West Yellowstone and Glacier Country in Western Montana.

January 1998 - G&B; Select-A-Seat forms a corporate alliance with Silver Country to market guided snowmobile expeditions.

-David Gunter

This sidebar appeared with the story: A SILVER LINING Here are some milestones in the evolution of the Silver Country tourism promotion initiative: April 1995 - Tom Magnuson canvases North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Western Montana to sell the idea of combining a fragmented network of U.S. Forest Service trails into a continuous 1,000-mile riding area called Silver Country. July 1995 - Despite resistance from Idaho Travel Council Director Carl Wilgus, Silver Country ekes out a $25,000 grant as seed money for the project. December 1995 - The trail system opens for the snowmobiling season, offering trail heads in a dozen towns in North Idaho and Western Montana. January 1996 - The New York Times features Silver Country in a Sunday travel section, resulting in more than 3,000 inquiries the following week. USA Today, The Washington Post and 20 other major newspapers run feature articles later that month. January 1996 - SnoWest Magazine describes Silver Country as “challenging West Yellowstone as the snowmobiling capital of the world.” June 1996 - A leading ATV publication, 4-Wheel Action, names Silver Country “the world’s largest ATV trail system” at the beginning of the summer riding season. August 1996 - Yamaha introduces its 1997 line of ATVs in Silver Country with an advertising theme based on “one of the world’s greatest riding areas.” June 1997 - American Isuzu Motor Corp. rolls out its 1998 Rodeo sport utility vehicle in North Idaho, hosting 30 national press representatives on off-road excursions into Silver Country. December 1997 - Coca-Cola and Best Western International form a strategic alliance with Silver Country to promote Silver Country Tours. Other corporate partners include Spokane Yamaha, Dave Smith Motors, Albertson’s and Super 1 Foods. December 1997 - Chevy Outdoors Magazine names Silver Country among the top three in the “West’s best snowmobile trails.” Also listed are West Yellowstone and Glacier Country in Western Montana. January 1998 - G&B; Select-A-Seat forms a corporate alliance with Silver Country to market guided snowmobile expeditions. -David Gunter


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