Friday, January 6, 2012

Survey shows room for growth

40 percent of visitors unlikely to return


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A recent survey of passengers using Friedman Memorial Airport yielded a few surprises as well as room for tourism growth, say local economic development groups.

Carol Waller, executive director for Fly Sun Valley Alliance, revealed the results of the 2010-11 survey during a meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority on Tuesday.

According to the study, 54 percent of summer visitors arriving at the airport and 51 percent of winter visitors were visiting Sun Valley for the first time.

Results were mixed when it came to asking if those visitors would return—roughly 43 percent said they would likely or probably return within a year, while 40 percent said they were unlikely to do so.

Waller said that figure was not of major concern, and visitors still reported a high rate of satisfaction with their experiences.

"A lot of our visitors are going to other, similar, mountain-resort destinations," Waller said in an interview. "We have a very high rate of returns, but it's unrealistic to expect everybody to be coming back every year."

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Harry Griffith, executive director of Sustain Blaine economic development group, said he was surprised by the number of visitors who were staying with friends or relatives—about 55 percent.

"That was my 'Ah-ha!' moment," Griffith said in an interview. "It means visitors are coming because they know people here. If we can get in new visitors who don't have any contacts here, that's going to drive us in a big way."

Visitors currently spend roughly $1,750 during an average trip to Sun Valley, a number Griffith said could increase if more visitors paid for lodging. Hotel development could spur that spending and more visitors, he said.

Waller said the fact that so many visitors don't stay in local hotels could affect how minimum revenue guarantees, which keep Horizon Air flying into Sun Valley during high seasons, would be funded.

"Sun Valley Co. is taking the lion's share of financial responsibility for these nonstop flights, and they do not necessarily reap the lion's share of the economic benefits," she said. "I guess that begs the question of how we spread that financial risk through the community."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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