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Idaho tourism recovering from COVID-19

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Carrie Westergard

Yes, we are coming back.

Idaho and the Boise metro area have already seen the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. As we readjust to today’s version of near-normal, I’m delighted to report that visitors are ready to gather and travel once again. We also have you to thank for maintaining some visitation with staycations over this past year. This year would not have turned out the same without your support of the hospitality industry. Here in Boise and the nearby surroundings, we’re celebrating, not fretting, about the future. We’re welcoming visitors back to our area, and encouraging them to consider bringing more meetings, conventions and events to our area.

But all this excitement wasn’t without challenges. The climb back to the kind of visitation and meeting activity that we enjoyed pre-pandemic times isn’t easy, but we’re getting there. Make no mistake, Idaho is well-positioned to greet visitors who are itching to get out to where life is a little more relaxed, and where there is room to breathe.

As Idaho returns to the nation’s mind as a place to visit and get away from the bigger cities, I thought it worth sharing some of the things we’ve learned, and how we intend to re-emerge as a popular smaller city that visitors enjoy.

Already we’ve had some good indicators of progress. Recently, the Western States Hostage Negotiators regional event reported on its website that its meeting in Boise was “a fantastic five days of in-person training in Boise.” More than 300 attendees reported a quality visit.

Now here in June, we’re looking hard at sporting events coming back online, including the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Far West Regionals and the USA Pickleball Pacific Northwest Regional Championship, slated to take place from June 22nd through June 27th, a first for the Boise area. These incoming events have inspired our own local organizers to reconsider their decisions to scale back or even shut down sporting events. The Twilight Criterium and Boise Albertsons Open are planning to make a comeback, and we’ve all been excited to see this month’s announcement of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl returning to Boise’s fields in December.

Which is precisely the point we’re making to many people who live here in Idaho but who are connected to larger, national or regional business coalitions, associations or events. When these people tell me about their events in other cities getting cancelled, my response is: Send them to us. We at the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau are good at making room.

We call this our “Bring Your Conference Home” initiative, and it is an idea that’s well overdue. If you, in your day-to-day work, are aware of a meeting or get-together that is looking for a place to land, let me encourage you to speak up and represent Boise as a place to gather.

These could be a few years out and although we’ve successfully hosted events that draw as many as 1,700 visitors, we do well with small groups too. The 300-600 person group is a bit of a sweet spot for Boise; we do well with events of that size range, and we’re only going to get better at it.

As we go about our professional and personal lives, we are often tied to something larger, a group of people who share our type of job or who are affiliated in some other way, and who try to get together when possible. And so often, we head off to larger cities or far away places for our gatherings. To all of you, I say, don’t forget your home town, and how great it could be to gather people in Boise for a change.

That’s the sort of lessons we learned through this singular period in history. Over and over we have heard stories about cities and destinations struggling to maintain their identity during this challenging period. Those who dug in and worked hard to maintain that were the successful ones. I’ve been admiring the many businesses in Boise that have done that very thing. It’s that sort of resilience, that sort of determination, that make Boise the kind of great place to live and work. And as we did before the pandemic’s arrival, I believe it’s the kind of thing that makes Boise the great place for visitors as well.

Carrie Westergard is executive director of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau.  


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