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Sun Valley sees shift in tourism: conferences out, longer stays in

Tourism is the biggest contributor to Sun Valley’s economy. According to the Chamber of Hailey and Wood River Valley, skiers and other visitors accounted for 78% of the region’s $1.8 billion local gross domestic product.

Scott Fortner, the executive director of Visit Sun Valley, says amid the COVID-19 pandemic, summer tourism has changed from the traditional sense. He says thatthat big corporate events and weddings are “non-existent” in Sun Valley this season.

An event that was canceled this year but typically brings in a lot of revenue and tourists is Allen Co. Sun Valley summit. This event has a huge financial impact on the community.

[Sleepier summer in Sun Valley: The only stars are the ones in the sky; Allen & Co. canceled]

New types of tourists emerge in Sun Valley

Tourism in a more non-traditional (to Sun Valley) sense is still taking place.

“We’re seeing a lot of second homeowners coming and staying for a much longer period of time then they have in the past,” Fortner said. “We’re seeing a lot of remote workers, people who were previous visitors, or past guests. People who have come before and now have this ability to work from home, or work anywhere for that matter, and are deciding to post up here.”

Fortner says many of these people staying for several weeks are looking for a new place to live.

He thinks even with fewer tourists the extended stay groups are making the area feel as lively as a normal summer. Fortner added that it is too early to tell how this change has affected retail and restaurants. 

[‘Quarantine by the lake:’ Amidst pandemic, cabin rental company sees business increase]

Some things change, some adjust

This past weekend, many retailers held sales with big discounts on ski and snow sports gear, attracting crowds at shops throughout Ketchum. Most restaurants took advantage of warm weather with socially distanced outdoor patios. Fourth St. in Downtown Ketchum is closed to vehicle traffic, providing extended patio and outdoor seating in the city’s downtown core.

One major event, the Sun Valley Music Festival, started back up this week at the Pavilion near the Sun Valley Lodge. In-person seats are available – capped at 1,000 across the large lawn area, with performances streamed online for folks who can’t make it in person.

Historically, getting a room last minute in Sun Valley would not be possible. Now with fewer large events the area is welcoming many last-minute check-ins.

Fortner believes that many of the tourists are repeat guests. These guests are aware of the “chill factor” that comes with staying in the mountains.

“I think it is just the vibe and chill here. It’s got to be a pretty welcome sight…,” he said. “We are fortunate that we’re not getting a bunch of new people who aren’t used to the vibe here… We’ve just done more communicating to those people who are interested in coming, or are coming. (We are telling them) about what to expect, what the expectations are from people who live here and what they’re going to find when they interact with folks here.”

BoiseDev’s Don Day contributed reporting.

Autum Robertson - BoiseDev reporter
Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Meridian and McCall. Contact her at [email protected].

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