Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 10-minute solution

Writer Dennis Higman is a longtime central-Idaho and Wood River Valley resident.


I was happy to see the Express editorial extolling the natural beauty of Sun Valley along with the guest opinion by the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance on "Getting the Word Out." But it's going to take a lot more than poetic dissertations on scenery and wild animals, as spectacular as they are, and outside consultants to solve our long-standing, inbred problems here.

First, and foremost, we have to get over the old Bell System mantra: "We Don't Care, We Don't Have To," both in terms of customer service and our self satisfaction at being the first, and therefore still the best, destination resort in North America. Thanks to the current downturn—and not much else—there has been a definite change for the better in the attitude toward paying customers, at least on the superficial level of "Hi, welcome to Sun Valley, how may I help you enjoy your stay?" But that's clearly not enough, not even close.

What we most desperately need, in addition to a good attitude, is some community leadership for a change. Or, as my good friend Bob Mobley, a longtime valley resident and guru of corporate leadership concepts might put it, a person or persons who can pull us together by force of will and good ideas to get us focused on a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Contentious, fractious politics have been a way of life ever since I moved here sixteen years ago. While recalls, political infighting and public temper tantrums were an amusing, even entertaining distraction when we were riding high, they are irresponsible and destructive now.

Without strong, dynamic leadership that puts community first, it doesn't matter how many consulting firms we hire or how many grand marketing plans we conjure up. It seems to me the Alliance has made a good start in this direction with their Nov. 26 manifesto, particularly by acknowledging that Sun Valley Co. needs to be in the mix. No kidding!

For better or worse, this is a resort community. And despite fantasies of creating a more balanced economy in an area which has no reliable air transportation system, no advanced educational institutions and the cost of living is prohibitively high for middle managers, Sun Valley Co. has been and will continue to be our big economic engine in the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, I'll be looking forward to some clarification from the Alliance about their specific goals, which I assume includes reestablishing Sun Valley as a world-class mountain resort by doing those things that will attract the kind of people who can make that happen—younger, affluent, outdoor-oriented people with growing children who will like it so much they will either: (a) come back often (b) become part time residents or (c) move here permanently.

In their opus, the Alliance mentions "core messages that will connect the greatest number of people with the most compelling experiences." I have an idea that may be of help to them in that regard, articulated by my neighbor Carl Stremmel, another longtime valley resident, who has had a few good money-making ideas in his time.

Let's start to develop such a core message by making a list of things we have right now in Sun Valley that might attract our target audience and, equally important, a list of things we don't have, but need, to keep those affluent visitors coming back. Just for fun, let's say all attractions are "Only 10 Minutes Away."

In no particular order of importance, here are some of those things we might put on the list: our beautiful scenery, of course; world-class downhill skiing with half pipes and a terrain park—finally; the new gondola; helicopter skiing; paragliding; an ice rink and ice shows featuring Olympic champions; sleigh and wagon rides, horseback riding; a free in-area ground transportation system; miles of biking trails in the summer and groomed cross-country trails and snowshoeing trails in the winter; a gun club for trap and skeet; excellent PGA golf courses; good tennis courts; a free summer symphony program in a new outdoor facility plus other music shows featuring big stars; a great climbing wall, Olympic size pool, kids pool and full equipped gym open to the public at the Y, a Y like you've never seen before; a full-service hospital; a summer rodeo in Hailey (10 minutes-plus but close); the world famous historic Sun Valley Lodge and Inn with plenty of high-end condos and other places to stay; excellent fly-fishing; good churches; fine restaurants; and finally, a host of popular events including, but not limited to, the Boulder Mountain Tour, Jazz Festival, the Writer's Conference, the Spiritual Film Festival, and upcoming Mountain Biking Championship.

Now that we've dazzled ourselves with what we do have, we'd better take a hard look at what we don't have if we're going to become a world-class resort once again, a short list but an important one. We do not have:

( A five-star hotel or hotels. Yes, there are plans, but so far no ground has been broken.

- A full-service, first-class spa.

- Five-star restaurants.

- Better evening entertainment for young couples.

- A modern video arcade for kids.

- Good signage, so I don't have to tell tourists where Sun Valley Resort is located.

- And finally, we do not have a reliable air transportation system. Again, there are plans but at the present rate of progress, I won't be using that facility in my lifetime.

We can, of course, be an also-ran, stick to our guns and say we don't care about people who care about this stuff, which has been our consistent attitude to this point. Certainly, it can be argued that the Sun Valley Lodge is a first-class place, as is the Inn. But despite the recent New York Times article "36 Hours in Sun Valley," cozy and historic is up against the Four Seasons these days. Plus, most younger people could care less about Gary Cooper and "Sun Valley Serenade."

So there it is, the "10-Minute Solution," ripe for the picking. A competent marketing person could mold this idea into a great advertising slogan in about five minutes. And it gives our newfound leadership a point to rally the community around, including businesses. Because, after all—young or old—we all benefit from being only 10 minutes away in Sun Valley, don't we?

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