Businesses go for the gold

Through a savvy marketing plan, Idaho companies grossed about $100 million from the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Regional tourism entities are hoping for a repeat performance in 2010, when the Winter Olympics come to Vancouver, B.C.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to go around,” said Carl Wilgus, assistant deputy director of Idaho’s Commerce & Labor Department.

Wilgus engineered a 10-point campaign to capitalize on the Salt Lake Olympics, which were just an hour’s flight from Boise. The campaign included recruiting Olympic athletes to train in Idaho; encouraging recreational skiers to escape Salt Lake crowds by booking Idaho vacations; and helping Idaho companies win contracts to provide supplies and services to the winter games.

This time around, Wilgus is participating in the Pacific NorthWest Innovation Network – an organization representing the interests of five states and three Canadian provinces. The network is looking for ways to build on Idaho’s earlier success.

Bringing athletes to the Pacific Northwest before the games begin is one of the network’s main goals. Organizers are developing an on-line database of training facilities and surrounding communities. The Inland Northwest’s five ski resorts will be included in the database.

“When you have high-caliber athletes interested in medaling, they want to spend several weeks in the area, so they can get adjusted to the time zone, the climate and the altitude,” Wilgus said.

Some of those athletes will want to be in the thick of action at B.C.’s Whistler Blackcomb, where the games will be held. Others will be looking for the kind of quiet, retreat experience that Schweitzer Mountain Resort and other Inland Northwest ski areas can provide, he said.

Before the 2002 Winter Games, Idaho spent $10,000 promoting itself as an Olympic training/acclamation area. The outreach paid remarkable dividends, according to Wilgus.

About 360 athletes – roughly 10 percent of the Olympic contestants – spent time in Idaho before the games. The U.S. alpine and snowboard teams trained in southern Idaho. Athletes also came from Canada, Ukraine and Italy.

The Swiss and Slovakian hockey teams played an exhibition match in Boise. China’s women’s hockey team also staged a match in Boise.

The state of Idaho spent another $500,000 advertising its resorts to recreational skiers and snowboarders. Utah skiers tend to be fiercely loyal to resorts in the Wasatch Range, because of the quality of the skiing experience there, Wilgus said. But the Salt Lake City Olympics provided an opportunity to lure them to other locations.

“In the years leading up the Winter Games, there’s the perception that it’s too busy, too expensive and too crowded,” he said.

Beginning in the 2008-2009 ski season, the Pacific NorthWest Innovation Network will market aggressively to Seattle skiers, who make up a large percentage of Whistler Blackcomb’s destination travelers, encouraging them to try out other resorts.

Vendor contracts were another way that Idaho capitalized on the Salt Lake City Olympics. Some Idaho firms won multi-million contracts for supplying portable toilets and motor homes for office spaces. The largesse also trickled down to smaller firms.

A Grangeville-based sewing company supplied the protective padded buffers in the alpine ski areas, Wilgus said. A Sun Valley woman who makes high-end, hand-knitted hats also received a contract. Her hats went into gift bags for Olympic sponsors.

The $100 million impact to Idaho was spread out over the two years leading up to the 2002 Olympics, and the two years following, Wilgus said.

The event’s still having a positive effect on the state’s tourism revenues, he added. It helped introduce European tourism operators to southern Idaho, and they’re still sending clients to the region, Wilgus said.

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