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For the week of March 28 through April 3, 2001

Sun Valley joins world-wide marketing

Rocky Mountain International holds local ‘roundup’

Express Staff Writer

Idaho was marketed to the world in Sun Valley last week.

Rocky Mountain International (RMI), a marketing group that works for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, convened at Sun Valley’s Elkhorn Resort for an annual "roundup" where foreign tour operators meet with service providers from the four states.

Carrie Schiller-Westergard, Sun Valley-Ketchum chamber marketing director, spent two days talking with various tour operators from Europe. Express photo by Greg Stahl

The five-day event, which ended Sunday, gave Sun Valley the opportunity to flaunt the region’s attractions for international tour operators, who might be interested in bringing international business here.

Each year, the "roundup" is held in a different member state.

The idea, explained Idaho Department of Commerce tourism development specialist Karen Ballard, is for service providers in all four states to sell their products to tour operators in foreign countries. RMI, which has offices in several foreign countries, also markets its member states abroad.

"We all market ourselves together," Ballard said.

Idaho has been a member of the organization for seven years. The state’s current share of the RMI Budget is $166,000.

Last week, about 200 people—comprised of 27 international tour operators, six international journalists and about 70 service suppliers—attended the "roundup."

"It’s just great, great, great exposure," Elkhorn marketing director Hollie Hunter said during an event lunch.

Ballard said foreign tourists are desirable because they tend to stay longer and spend about five times as much money as domestic travelers.

Ballard’s associate, Carl Wilgus, agreed.

"They stay longer; they spend more money; they have more economic impact per unit than any other visitor," said Wilgus, who is the Department of Commerce’s tourism administrator.

About 70 percent of the world’s skiers are from outside the United States, pointed out Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce executive director Carol Waller. However, only about 3 percent of Sun Valley’s winter business is from international markets.

As a comparison, she said, international visitors at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole amount to 15 percent of the resort’s business.

A substantial part of the week-long event included a two-day "marketplace," in which service providers—such as hotels, guide services and resorts—had opportunities to meet with tour operators from throughout Europe. Elkhorn Resort’s conference facilities were packed with folding tables and people scrambling to strike deals with international tour operators.

Carrie Schiller-Westergard, Sun Valley-Ketchum chamber marketing director, spent two days talking with various tour operators from Europe.

One she spent a significant amount of time with was David Ovendale, North America manager of Crystal Holidays, a tour operator catering to skiers who live in the United Kingdom.

Crystal Holidays, Ovendale said in an interview, sells skiing holidays exclusively. It was his job to talk with representatives for Sun Valley, and Montana’s Big Mountain and Big Sky resorts during the "marketplace" discussions.

He said Sun Valley has a great mountain and great appres ski opportunities, but lacks easy air access.

"The mountain’s got potential. You’ve got the terrain. It (his company’s decision) will ultimately hinge on accessibility. The crux of the issue is flying," he said.

Crystal Holidays brings 10,000 skiers to the United States each year, Ovendale said. The company’s next largest competitor brings under 2,000.

Idaho hosts about 271,300 international visitors annually, resulting in an $83.1 million boost to the tourism industry, RMI’s annual marketing report states.

In the past eight years, international visits to Idaho have increased from 1 percent of the state’s total visits to 5 percent.

"It’s been a terrific 10 years [since RMI first formed]," wrote RMI president Chuck Box in the report. Growth has more than tripled. The world is getting smaller. Our unique and beautiful region continues to be on the cutting edge of international tourism marketing, and we expect that growth to continue."


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