Friday, March 20, 2009

Resort works against corporate backlash

Chamber hopes to halt loss of business meetings


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Carol Waller

As the recession continues to fuel a backlash against extravagant corporate expenditures, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is looking to keep all-important conference business flowing into the valley.

Chamber Executive Director Carol Waller stated in a news release this week that Sun Valley Resort has faced the cancellation of several corporate meetings this summer, largely from the heavily impacted financial sector.

"This loss will also affect many other businesses in the valley who count on meeting/conference attendees as an important part of their tourist customer base," Waller wrote.

Sun Valley spokesman Jack Sibbach said about half of the resort's business is from groups and meetings. He said those groups have about a 75 percent return rate.

Because of the vital role this kind of business plays in the economic health of resorts like Sun Valley, the U.S. Travel Association has created a campaign called Meetings Mean Business. The campaign is aimed at ensuring that media and policymakers "understand the importance of meetings, events and incentive travel on state and local economies."

Waller said representatives of resorts and meeting sites around the country are being encouraged to inform local and national political leaders about the economic benefits that meetings and group travel provide.

At the local level, Waller said, her organization will work with other business chambers from around the state, as well as with Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the Idaho Travel Council, to draft letters to the state's congressional delegation. The aim of this effort is to make sure that any federal stimulus funding policies do not preclude corporate meetings as an allowed expenditure.

"(These meetings) are also a key economic stimulus for thousands of both large cities and small communities throughout the country," Waller said.

On a more local level, Waller said residents and second-home owners are being encouraged to help bring new meeting business to the valley.

"Many people who live here have connections to corporate, association or special-interest groups that could bring new tourism revenues to our area," she said.

The best example of that is the annual Allen & Co. conference, hosted by part-time resident and business mogul Herbert Allen. The high-profile conference brings in millions of dollars to the Wood River Valley every summer.

One casualty of the economy could benefit the Wood River Valley. With Tamarack Resort closing down at the beginning of the month due to bankruptcy, Sun Valley Co. could see some new business in the form of small meetings and weddings. In addition, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Executive Director Don Wiseman said Tamarack's closure has added another ski event to Bald Mountain's lineup this spring.

"As you can imagine, the recent unexpected closing of Tamarack also left a number of conferences, weddings and ski competitions previously booked there without a home, and various businesses have been busy collaborating to bring these homeless events to Sun Valley," Wiseman said.

Sun Valley Resort and the ski education foundation will host the Coleman Open, a four-day freestyle skiing event originally scheduled for Tamarack, from April 2-5. The Coleman is the final freestyle event for the year and is expected to attract more than 150 top freestyle contestants from the West.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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