Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tourism sector talks to state legislators

LOT for air service deemed ‘important’ for valley

Express Staff Writer

    State legislators representing District 26 were given a recap Tuesday of recent successes that could increase commercial air service, protect local jobs and further develop tourism in the Sun Valley area.
    Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Steven Miller, R- Fairfield, and Rep. Donna Pence, D- Gooding, heard from representatives of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, Friedman Memorial Airport and Sun Valley Resort, at the County Courthouse Annex in Hailey.
    Arlene Schieven, president of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, told the representatives that despite a relative lack of funding, her organization has used innovative marketing techniques to increase enplanements to Hailey from Los Angeles and Seattle by 20 percent last year.
     Shieven said “Skippy the Robot,” a mechanized rock-skipping robot that could be operated remotely on a website, brought $3 million in public relations value to the area, and helped to increase hotel room bookings through the Visit Sun Valley website by 20 percent.
    Shieven said Skippy also caught the attention of Dent the Future conference co-founder Steve Broback, who convened the high-tech, exclusive conference for the first time in Sun Valley in March.
    Broback said at the Sustain Blaine Economic Summit, held earlier this month, that Sun Valley was a great place for a conference because the attendees remain together, rather than dispersing out into a city when individual workshops end.
    The Dent conference is sponsored by Microsoft Bing, Scientific American and Southwest Airlines.
    Schieven said her organization’s budget of $970,000 pales in comparison to the $11 million marketing budget used by Whistler, British Columbia, where she worked previously.
    Shieven said only 1 percent of Californians surveyed by her organization mentioned Sun Valley when asked about ski resorts, compared to 49 percent of Californians who mentioned Whistler, B.C.

Tourism never gets the credit it deserves, compared to the benefits it brings to the state.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett

    Yet Shieven and Jack Sibbach, director of marketing and public relations for Sun Valley, are working to increase Sun Valley’s visibility on the West Coast, now that nonstop United Airlines daily (seasonal) regional jet flights between San Francisco and Hailey are scheduled to begin on Dec 12.
    Sibbach said Sun Valley Resort recently redirected $200,000 in marketing funding to the San Francisco Bay Area to advertise the new flight, which he said is bringing healthy competition at Friedman Memorial Airport.    
    “[Ticket] costs are coming down due to the San Francisco flight,” Sibbach said.
    Sibbach said he was told Friday by developer Jack Bariteau that financing for Bariteau’s planned four-star Hotel Ketchum at the south end of Ketchum became much more feasible when the nonstop flights to Hailey were announced.
    “In the end, it’s all about creating local jobs,” Sibbach said.
    Eric Seder, president of the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance board, pointed out that after United Airlines announced the new San Francisco flights, Delta Airlines announced it would begin regional jet flights to and from Salt Lake City.
    Seder said he expects a recent $500,000 grant to develop flights from the East Coast, perhaps connecting through Denver, will also add to the number of seats available, to and from the valley.
    “We will have 30 percent more seats next year,” Seder said.
    Sibbach, Seder and Schieven said the momentum behind increasing air service to the Sun Valley area would benefit from passage of a local-option-tax ballot measure that will be before Hailey and Ketchum voters on Nov. 5. Receipts from the tax would be used to fund minimum-revenue guarantees to airlines and to promote commercial air service.
    Stennett, the only legislator present at the meeting who lives in Ketchum, said she would keep an eye out for proposed local-option-tax legislation that could one day change the way the Wood River Valley collects the tax, possibly causing problems with the way minimum-revenue guarantees are funded. State law requires 60 percent voter approval for imposition of any new local option tax.
    “Tourism never gets the credit it deserves, compared to the benefits it brings to the state,” Stennett said.
Tony Evans:

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