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For the week of  September 19 - 25, 2001


Tourism experts 
predict downturn

Sun Valley’s economy could be hit

Express Staff Writer

Last week’s East Coast tragedies at the hands of terrorists will negatively affect what has been perceived to be a marginal winter tourist season in the Wood River Valley, tourism experts said.

An already slipping economy, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and terrorist activity have combined this fall to prompt Idaho and local tourism experts to forecast a borderline fall and winter season.

"We have to face it. Our country was basically shut down for several days last week," said Georgia Smith, Idaho Department of Commerce information officer. "There’s a lot that just came to a standstill. We may never know what the impact will be. We may never know the depth of the impact.

"I know that your area will take a hit."

Smith said the state’s tourism division is already taking a look at the state’s overall marketing strategy to see if strategies "can or should" be adjusted.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, tourism and convention cancellations have hit Sun Valley and other parts of the state, Smith said.

The scarcity of air traffic has left the Boise Airport approximately $200,000 short of expected operating revenue. The additional time new airline security requirements has added to travel time has made driving about as fast for trips within southern Idaho and to Salt Lake City, further reducing air traffic activity.

Idaho hotels are showing up to 20 percent higher vacancy rates, and the rental car business has fallen off as well.

"I think it’s too early to tell, but let’s face it. It can’t be good," Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman said.

As one of the Wood River Valley’s biggest economic engines, Sun Valley’s ability to attract clientele affects other area businesses. In fact, a report released last spring confirmed that one third of Blaine County’s economy is either directly or indirectly fueled by tourism.

"Just our basic sense of well-being is going to get challenged some, and that’s a terrible thing," Huffman said. "It’s going to hit right at the heart of our personality as a culture."

Part of that personality is vacation and recreation time.

"I think there is an expectation that there will be a downturn in people traveling," Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol Waller said. "It’ll make it even dicier, because you’ve got this (terrorist) situation on top of an already slow economy. It’s going to affect travel."

Huffman said Sun Valley’s December and January advanced reservations were already down—probably because of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics—before last week’s East Coast disasters. February and March reservations were holding an even keel compared with recent years.

"It’s a little too early to assess possible affects the events this week might have on our long-term business, but it’s already affected our short-term business," he said.

Last weekend, several hundred of Sun Valley Co.’s room nights were canceled because of travel difficulties and concerns.

"The broader picture—if the economy tanks even further, it’s certainly going to affect what goes on here," Waller said. "Usually what happens in the country eventually happens in Sun Valley, even if it takes a while for it to catch up."

The winter tourism season isn’t the only season that could take a hit this year.

Fall, historically a period of economic doldrums in Sun Valley, has been picking up in recent years due to increased marketing and the addition of several events.

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, scheduled for Oct. 12 - 14, typically draws about 4,000 tourists to the valley, Waller said. The Sun Valley Jazz Festival, scheduled for Oct. 17 - 21, typically draws 7,500.

Waller hesitated to predict how last week’s tragedies might affect Sun Valley’s fall events. At least half of those who attend the events usually drive here, she said.

Smith said Sun Valley and other typical autumn tourist destinations in Idaho may experience an increase in the number of people driving.

Central Idaho typically logs about 989,600 automobile travel parties, Smith said. Annually, Central Idaho logs 4.6 million automobile travel parties.

Those are numbers that may increase this fall and this year, she said.

Nonetheless, the experts aren’t making rosy predictions.

"We want to let people know that Sun Valley is open for business, but you don’t want to play too much on what happened last Tuesday," Waller said. "But I think they will be afraid to travel right now."

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.