Community leaders offered no dramatic solutions during a panel discussion Thursday to counter the economic hit delivered to local businesses by the Beaver Creek Fire.
However, members of the five-person panel said word has been getting out that the valley is again open for business, and they are counting on strong participation in Wagon Days and fall events to mitigate some of that damage.
Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall told people in a crowded meeting room at the Community Library in Ketchum that when he watched about 5,000 people being evacuated from their homes, “I knew our season was over and we would be tragically hurt.”
Hall said the economic impact of the fire has not yet been calculated, but the Castle Rock Fire in 2007 caused about $3.5 million in business losses.
“I anticipate that we’ll have the best September that we’ve had in years.”
Sun Valley Resort Marketing Director
Wood River Economic Partnership Director Doug Brown said impacts from the Beaver Creek Fire have been “much worse.”
“On Aug. 15, slack started,” Brown said.
Hall added that many of the events canceled due to the fire were fundraisers for local nonprofit organizations.
Sun Valley Marketing Alliance Director Arlene Schieven said revenue from August hotel reservations made through the visitsunvalley.com website was down 43 percent compared to last year. In an interview, she said hotel occupancy in the valley was 37 percent during the week of the fire, about half that of the same week last year.
Schieven said during the discussion that the organization was able to cancel its ads during the fire, which means it can extend its marketing farther into the fall than usual. Hall said the city of Ketchum has spent $5,000 on radio ads to promote Wagon Days this weekend.
Schieven said she will meet with the Idaho Travel Council to discuss ways that it can help to promote the area this fall.
Sun Valley Resort Director of Marketing and Public Relations Jack Sibbach said August is normally the resort’s busiest month. He said the fire “couldn’t have come at a worse time economically short-term.”
However, he said some reservations canceled by groups during the fire were postponed to September.
“I anticipate that we’ll have the best September that we’ve had in years,” he said.
Sibbach said there does not appear to be the perception outside the area that Sun Valley or Bald Mountain have burned, as was the case after the Castle Rock Fire.
“This time we were more prepared in doing the videos daily,” Sibbach said.
He said no one has called to cancel reservations for this winter.
Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said low-interest loans to affected businesses are available from the Region IV Development Association.
Panel members stressed the importance now of shopping locally, and urged passage of a one percent increase to local option tax rates to subsidize and promote local air service as a long-term aid to businesses. Voters in Ketchum, and Hailey will decide the issue in November.
“This is the No. 1 thing we can do to jump-start our economy,” Brown said. “The business community really is concerned about the lack of marketing dollars and the lack of flights into our valley.”
He added that if the LOT increase had been passed last year, more money for marketing would be available to help after the fire.
Hall pointed out that a recently inked deal with United Airlines to provide direct service from San Francisco is only for one year, and continuation of the service could depend on the additional LOT money.
Greg Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org