Business Columns & Blogs

In a changing Idaho, can we find tourism opportunities in our ‘off seasons’?

Nancy Napier
Nancy Napier

Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at asking questions and seeing “dots,” or trends that seem to have no connection – yet in the end, they just might. Sometimes, I can find solutions. As I think about tourism and Idaho, I am seeing “dots” and have questions. Maybe that’s enough to start a conversation.

I just returned from vacation in Australia (yes, wonderful), which got me thinking about what it’s known for: the Sydney Opera House, the Australian Open tennis tournament, Uluru Rock in the middle of the Outback, kangaroos and koalas, and increasingly, wine. These attractions appeal to different markets – people interested in architecture and culture, adventure seekers, gourmands. And that leads me to Idaho.

When I think about what many visitors come for, it’s often for “big” outdoor activities: rafting, hiking, skiing, kayaking, mountain biking and more. Many are summer activities, for people who are (mostly) fit, many with families. In fact, there’s a wonderful ad that focuses on the “18 summers” you’ll have with your kids, so make the most of it in Idaho.

But then two “dots” hit me. First, we’ve been living in unsightly and unhealthy smoky haze lately, throughout much of the state. Some people find simply being outdoors difficult, let alone participating in those physically demanding outdoor activities.

Then, I heard a story on Boise State Public Radio about a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Bliss. The reporter interviewed a woman who had relocated from Southern California (to Bliss?!), and that reminded me of our growing population of newcomers, many of whom are older and retired. That group might not be able or want to do big outdoor activities that Idaho is so lauded for.

These points – bad summer air and changing population – make me wonder whether there is a tourism opportunity. Could we entice older visitors for the “off seasons” of spring and fall, when the weather is good and the air is clear, who might be interested in activities that are not so adventurous?

And that’s where I landed, connecting dots, asking questions but having no firm solutions, which the experts can better tackle. But I wonder, what do we offer in the way of indoor activities or some outdoor ones that are less physically demanding but would appeal to the older market? How do we become better known for our theater or food or walking trails? In essence, is there an opportunity to make our other seasons the new “high seasons”?

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University.