Tourism grants up more than 11 percent

Boats and tourists at Payette Lake in McCal this summer. Seven regions of the state received travel grants from the Idaho Travel Council for tourism marketing. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

The Idaho Travel Council distributed more than $5 million in grants this summer to nonprofits in seven regions, as well as statewide, to help further promote travel and tourism in Idaho.

Grants ranged from more than $1 million to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, including the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, to $26,000 for the Lemhi County Economic Development Association. Statewide grants, amounting to almost $300,000, were awarded to the Idaho Lodging & Restaurant Association, the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, the Idaho RV Campgrounds Association, and the Idaho Ski Areas Association. The Boise award was the first ever over $1 million, said Matt Borud, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Commerce Department.

photo of matt borud
Matt Borud

The Travel Council received 28 applications and gave out 27, Borud said. The only applicant that didn’t receive a grant was the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, which instead was funded through the Southwest Idaho Travel Association, he said. Each of the state’s tourism regions except Region 7, which includes Sun Valley, have a regional travel organization to help promote the region, and sometimes it is easier for a nonprofit to work with a regional entity, he said.

photo of carrie westergard
Carrie Westergard

Tourism brings in more than $4 billion annually, making it Idaho’s third-largest industry, said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Westergard said tourism employs more than 14,000 people in the Boise area alone. State Tourism development activities are paid for by a 2 percent tax paid by travelers, collected by hotel, motel, vacation rental, and private campground owners, according to the Commerce Department. For fiscal year 2018, which ended July 1, that amounted to $12.4 million, an increase of 11.22 percent over the previous year, Commerce said.

Of that amount, 45 percent is used for statewide programs targeted to international and domestic consumers, tour operators, travel agents, and travel journalists, while another 45 percent is distributed to communities through the grant program. The remaining 10 percent pays for administration of the Tourism Development division, Commerce said.

Grant awards for each of the seven regions in Idaho are based on how much lodging money is collected in each region. Region 3, stretching from Nampa to McCall and including Boise, collected $4.6 million, Westergard said. The $1,037,685 that Boise received, a 12 percent increase over the previous year, was actually less than the organization requested, she said.

The Boise bureau will use the money for items such as attending trade shows to attract meeting planners, advertising the city to business and leisure travelers, and digital advertising to all 20 nonstop flight destinations from the Boise Airport, Westergard said. The group has also been working with about 30 travel journalists around the country, annually visiting cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and New York to meet with journalists there. “That sometimes takes a few years to have results,” she said. Sporting events also have a big economic impact — up to $15 million in the case of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, she said.

The state division is particularly interested in tourism efforts that drive greater national awareness around Idaho, Borud said. “We’re at a pretty significant disadvantage from a budget perspective,” he said. “Oregon and Utah run very big programs.” Tourism in Oregon brings in $11.8 billion, while tourism in Utah brought in $8.4 billion in 2016, according to the states’ respective tourism departments. “When people are exposed to Idaho, they are much more inclined to want to visit,” he said.

Idaho, particularly Boise, has been on a long list of best-of tourism destinations recently, Borud said. “’Northwest’s best-kept secret,’ ‘the West’s best-kept secret’ – that theme just keeps emerging,” he said. “We’re pleasantly surprised by the continual very positive, very authentic stories and representation of the state.”

That includes recent stories in the national news after a herd of 118 goats wandered through a Boise neighborhood. “That was hilarious,” Borud said. “Maybe it’s something we should do something with.”

Can five new Boise hotels serve the role of one big hotel?

Downtown Boise could end up with nine hotels in the same acreage as the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Downtown Boise could end up with nine hotels in the same acreage as the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Pat Rice has long hoped to see a full-service convention center headquarters hotel in downtown Boise with 425 or so rooms. That would serve the Boise Centre, where he is executive director.

Instead, it looks like he’s going to get five hotels in a relatively compact area. The footprint of the five matches the acreage of the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Separate developers are proposing hotels with 176, 170, 152, 130 and 113 rooms for the core of downtown Boise. That’s 741 rooms, far more than Rice was hoping for with a convention center hotel.

But meeting planners like to put everybody in one hotel. The Boise Centre has determined that the average regional organization considering Boise for a conference requires about 430 rooms, preferably at one hotel, for the peak night. So Rice doesn’t see the five as a perfect solution to the convention center’s needs.

“It definitely helps, particularly with two (hotels) on Parcel B,” said Rice, referring to the pair of hotels Gardner Company is proposing for the lot bounded by Front, Myrtle, 11th and 13th streets. “Three hundred rooms on one site, that helps serve the purpose. Other hotels will provide enough of ancillary space.”

Rice said having five new hotels and four existing hotels within four blocks of the Boise Center, coupled with the lower room rates than in bigger cities, “may soften the impact” of not having one hotel larger than any other in the Treasure Valley

It’s long been known that right now, there just aren’t enough hotel rooms to book the typical conference. A June 2015 Downtown Boise Market Study by PKF Consulting determined downtown had a shortage of 580 rooms to satisfy anticipated lodging demand in the next six years.

“We can only secure 200 to 300 rooms on a peak night at multiple hotels,” Boise Centre spokeswoman Mary-Michael Rodgers said.

Even if the downtown core ends up with 10 hotels – including The Modern – with a combined 1,417 rooms, no single hotel comes close to 430 rooms. The only two-hotel combination that fits the bill is the existing Grove Hotel and Hampton Inn, which are a block away from one another.

But in another setting, the new hotel rooms might be sufficient. All the planned and existing downtown Boise hotels occupy the typical footprint of the larger Las Vegas hotels, such as the Bellagio, which is about 74 acres. They’re all within the walking distance required from the parking lots at the hotels in that convention mecca.

The five new hotels – a Marriott Residence Inn, a Hyatt Place, an Inn at 500 Capitol and two not-yet-named hotels – would add a projected 741 rooms to the downtown core, which presently has 676 existing rooms at five hotels.

And, for those willing to walk a few blocks more, a sixth proposed hotel next to Whole Foods on the eastern edge of downtown is also in the mix.

Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau, hosted a dozen meeting planners from across the country Sept. 13-16. Along with touring the Boise Centre and the wine country, and white water rafting on the Payette River, the planners will learn about all the planned hotels.

“We haven’t had any new rooms since 2007,” Westergard said. “It will be interesting to see how quickly and who gets projects done. There is a different need. Most of these are limited service. There is definitely a need for full service.”


Boise visitors bureau gets $742,500 from the state

Cranes at the site of the Boise Centre expansion in downtown Boise. File photo.
Cranes at the site of the Boise Centre expansion in downtown Boise. File photo.

The Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau will build a visitor profile with the additional funding recently awarded to the bureau by the Idaho Travel Council.

The Boise CVB got $742,500, its largest ITC grant ever and $55,500 more than last year’s allocation from the Idaho Department of Commerce’s tourism division. This extra cash will allow the bureau to do market research, said Carrie Westergard, the CVB’s executive director.

Carrie Westergard
Carrie Westergard

“It’s been so many years since we’ve been able to define our visitors,” Westergard said.

She said the bureau in the next month or so will issue a request for proposal for someone to directly question visitors about their backgrounds and reasons for visiting the Region 3 area that the Boise CVB covers from McCall to Glens Ferry.

Boise is not alone in seeking market research.

“I would say collectively across the state, all the communities, they want to do more research,” said Diane Norton, tourism manager at the Tourism Development Division with the Idaho Department of Commerce.

An 8.65 percent increase of hotel occupancy tax payments from visitors enabled ITC to grant record amounts across the board to tourism entities statewide. In all, Boise’s share from a total pool of $3.9 million –  the highest amount since the program’s inception in 1981 – was distributed to 31 agencies.

“We anticipated a 7 percent growth,” Norton said. “It was nice to have the extra 1.65 percent.”

The travel council grant is the largest source of revenue for the BCVB’s $1.09 million budget, but the grant money cannot be used for salaries. Westergard will seek an increase in the $331,000 marketing contract the bureau has with the Boise Centre.

“We haven’t defined a number yet,” said Westergard, who said a proposal will be submitted in October and November.

Also on the CVB front, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce membership voted unanimously Aug. 27 to merge with the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. The visitors bureau has shared office space with the chamber since February 2013.

This merger formalizes a relationship that has largely already been in place since the chamber and bureau entered into a service agreement in February 2013, said Bill Connors, the chamber’s executive director.

The two entities have worked closely since then, with the visitors bureau landing two conferences from Connors’ tips. Connors, a Boise Airport commissioner, heard from fellow commissioners that the Adjutants General Association of the United States and the National Association of State Aviation Officials were looking for cities to hold conferences.

Connors passed the tips on to Lisa Edens, the CVB’s senior sales manager, and she landed both conferences for Boise.

The merger between chamber and visitors bureau could be complete by the end of November, Westergard said.

Boise visitors bureau likely will merge with Boise chamber

The Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau looks set to become an official entity of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber will ask its membership in an Aug. 27 special meeting to vote on a merger with the visitors bureau and amend the chamber bylaws to include the words “to promote the Boise metropolitan area as a tourism and visitor destination.”

If approved, the merger could be completed by the end of November, said Carrie Westergard, the CVB’s executive director since January.

Carrie Westergard
Carrie Westergard

The visitors bureau would become a separately funded division of the chamber, similar to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, also a chamber division.

The merger formalizes a relationship that has largely already been in place since February 2013, said Bill Connors, the chamber’s executive director.

At that time, the CVB entered into a service agreement with the chamber, and the visitors bureau office moved into the chamber office and started sharing some resources. This new relationship will eliminate more duplication of duties such as administrative assistance.

Both Westergard and Connor see this merger as a way to strengthen collaboration among the chamber, visitors bureau and Boise Valley Economic Partnership.

“This biggest thing is to make sure the business community realizes the economic power of tourism,” Connors said. “It makes it easy to make strategic decisions.”

Westergard, too, wants to build the visitors bureau’s exposure within the chamber membership.

The CVB-Chamber merger ends a five-year drama that nearly brought an end to the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Greater Boise Auditorium District in July 2010 cut $1.3 million of funding to the CVB, which GBAD had established as a separate entity in 1979. GBAD had been the primary source of funding for the visitors bureau.

The visitors bureau staff dwindled from 15 to seven and then two before Westergard moved down the hall from her position as the community relations director at the chamber, a position she had held for more than three years. The visitors bureau added a fourth position on Aug. 4 with a sales persons for sports events.

The merger with the chamber will not change the financial structure of the CVB, which will still have to rely on its own funding sources. The bureau presently has a $1.06 million annual budget, largely funded with a $687,000 grant from the Idaho Travel Council, the state entity that has supplied most of the CVB’s funding since GBAD stepped away. The visitors bureau has a $331,000 marketing contract with the Boise Centre and recently received $30,000 from the city of Boise, Westergard said.


In Boise, a hotel mini-boom is in the works

Hotel CollageThe Gardner Company is entering Boise’s burgeoning hotel business with plans to break ground on a 100-room structure by the end of the year.

Gardener CEO Tommy Ahlquist, builder of downtown’s tallest building at Eighth and Main, wouldn’t say where the company will build its hotel.

But “absolutely, we are looking at a hotel,” Ahlquist said. “We’re planning right now. We’re getting a deal structure together.”

Clay Carley, general manager of Old Boise and a partner at The Owyhee, said several hoteliers are talking to him about building a hotel on property he owns. He said it was too early in the process to release more details.

Tommy Ahlquist
Tommy Ahlquist

Boise’s downtown core has only five large hotels right now: The Grove, Hampton Inn & Suites, Hotel 43, The Modern Hotel and the Safari Inn. Only two large hotels, The Grove and the Hampton Inn, have been built downtown in the last 18 years.

But this month, former Eugene, Ore., mayor Brian Obie submitted a design review application with the city Planning and Development Services to build a 104-room Inn at 500 Capitol boutique hotel at Capitol and Myrtle. A week earlier, Jared S. Smith announced his plans for a 160- to 190-room branded hotel at the same intersection.

“There is no competition at our level,” Obie said. “This hotel is a high-end, luxury, nearly five-star hotel.”

Boise needs more hotel rooms, said Bill Connors, CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Business travel has really picked up and I only see it growing more with Albertsons back now and the Simplot world headquarters (under construction).”

But Pat Rice, executive director of the Boise Centre, noted that while the new hotels will serve business travelers well, they won’t necessarily help the Boise Centre book more conferences.

“(These two new hotels are) not what we need to book larger conferences,” said Rice. He’s looking for a hotel with about 4o0 rooms to go on what is called Parcel B, a dirt parking lot just went of the JUMP construction site downtown.

“We need a full-service, convention center quality hotel,” Rice said.

The Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau needs to be able to book blocks of 280 to 440 rooms near the convention center in advance for conferences, said Carrie Westergard, the bureau’s new executive director.

Both of the recently proposed hotels would sit at the same intersection as the Hampton Inn & Suites, which was built in 2007.

“It’s going to bring more travelers downtown,” said Erik Hansen, the Hampton Inn’s general manager, of the planned hotel construction. “It will help downtown grow.”

The Grove Hotel was the first towering hotel on Capitol Boulevard. These two proposed hotels would create a hotel row with four towers on Capitol.

“It was just a matter of time until more rooms were added to the market,” Grove CEO John Cunningham said. “Will it have an impact on us? In the short term, yes, but it’s good for the market.”

Downtown Boise has 690 to 1,200 hotel rooms, depending on how far you want to walk. The five hotels in the downtown core add up to 690 rooms. The Red Lion, Courtyard Boise, TownPlace Suites and Residence Inn consider themselves downtown, though they are all about a mile away from downtown towers.

Jared S. Smith indicated he would approach the Capital City Develop Corp. to enter into a public-private partnership to build and operate a parking garage for his hotel, as CCDC has done with the Grove, Hampton Inn and Hotel 43.

CCDC Executive Director John Brunelles said the hotel announcements were a sign of a strong economy.

“But these are just announcements,” Brunelle said. “You take them at their word and make sure to get them into pre-development.”

Eugene developer wants to give Boise a luxury boutique hotel

Brian Obie and his grandson Casey Barrett plan to build a boutique hotel on this parking lot at Capitol and Myrtle, across from the Hampton Inn and another planned hotel. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Brian Obie and his grandson Casey Barrett plan to build a boutique hotel on this parking lot at Capitol Boulevard and Myrtle Street, across from the Hampton Inn and another planned hotel. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Brian Obie believes Boise is the right place to build his second boutique hotel after trying out his concept in Eugene, Ore.

He just submitted an application for a design review on March 10 for a similar, seven-story, 107-room boutique hotel in Boise that he’s calling Inn at 500 Capitol for its address at Capitol Boulevard and Myrtle Street.

Obie was Eugene’s mayor in the 1980s, and built his hotel there, the Inn at the 5th, three years ago. Now he’s planning a Market District housing project in Eugene with a mix of condos and workforce housing.

Obie said he wanted to replicate the Inn at the 5th elsewhere.

Each room will have a butler's closet where room service can be delivered. Image courtesy of Inn at 500 Capitol.
Each room will have a butler’s closet where room service can be delivered. Image courtesy of Inn at 500 Capitol.

“We went on a search across the western United States,” Obie said. He’s establishing a foundation for his grandson, Casey Obie Barrett, who is collaborating with Obie on the hotels. “We’re in a generational thing here.”

Boise State University, Albertsons and the future Simplot corporate headquarters intrigued Obie. He added he doesn’t see comparable luxury hotels in Boise to compete with his.

“They’re not at our level,” Obie said about Hotel 43 and The Modern Hotel.

Obie describes his inns as “five-star except for not having a pool.” He noted every room has a “butler’s closet” where guests can retrieve their room service deliveries without opening the door of the hotel room. A Mercedes Benz sedan and van will be used to shuttle patrons about in Boise.

Each Boise room will have a small fireplace, art displays, and two sinks.

Barrett added: “That’s the number one thing requested by women. They want two sinks.”

Obie anticipates an average room rate of $220 a night, ranging from $165 to $380 and more, the same rates charged in Eugene.

“Boise and Eugene really have a similar (business) climate,” Barrett said. “We provide a service that wasn’t there. We want to be part of the community. We want to be plugged in with the arts, plugged in with the university.”

Obie Development Partners, where Obie is president and Barrett the vice president, have a 120-year lease on the property from Hawkins Companies for the Inn at 500 Capitol. Obie anticipates starting construction in August with an estimated completion in late 2016.