Carrie Westergard arrived in the Sun Valley area in the 1990s after attending college in Pennsylvania, and she says she knew right away that Idaho would become home. For 14 years, her job was to promote Sun Valley and all its attractions.
Westergard later made her way to Boise, as community relations director for the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. When the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau became allied with, and housed within, the chamber’s Downtown Boise offices, Westergard took over as executive director.
The bureau is responsible for bringing groups and events to Boise. A grant from the state’s 2 percent hotel tax funds the bureau’s promotion efforts, such as marketing videos.
But its operations and salaries are funded separately, such as through its contract to market the Boise Centre.
She estimates local tourism brings the Boise area a $750 million economic impact through lodging, restaurants and shopping.
This spring has been packed with announcements of tourism-friendly development plans in Downtown Boise:
• Aseven-story, 104-room boutique hotel
called The Inn at 500 Capitol.
• A10-story, 180-room “top tier” hotel
on the southeast corner of Capitol Boulevard and Broad Street.
• A300-room, full-service hotel
on Parcel B, the five acres west of JUMP, which Westergard calls the “third piece to the puzzle.”
• Anexpansion of the Boise Centre
, which is the Greater Boise Auditorium District’s convention center.
Westergard’s organization doesn’t just market the Downtown area — she considers herself a promoter of the whole area, and Idaho in general — but she says the new hotels fill a need.
Q: What did you think when you heard all these new hotels are coming to Downtown Boise?
A: We need more rooms, and each hotel announcement has brought more and more of the total “base room count” that we need. And they will serve different needs.
We work with both the leisure and the meeting focus. So, the boutique hotel will very much be a hotel that can service the leisure market, and the announcement of the Inn — that also will be leisure, seems like it is more of a longer-term stay.
It doesn’t quite hit the convention/meeting market that we needed, especially with the expansion of the Boise Centre. Currently, if you look at the Downtown hotels, there are four to five that are really in walking distance of the center. We [have] about 220 rooms that we can block for a convention ... about 400 or 500 meeting attendees. And our ideal amount, especially with the expansion, will be about 900 attendees.
So adding that third piece to the puzzle that just got announced from the Gardner Co. will really make a difference.
Q: When you’re marketing Boise to event planners, what are guaranteed selling points for Boise?
A: The accessibility. It’s easier to show than to explain, but walking through the ease of access, the urban-centric/outdoors balance. Not every city has, just outside their door, a great Greenbelt. We’ve got a great bike path, the Foothills, the water. We have a tremendous amount of preservation that’s happened with our parks and open space.
They are interested in what there is to do, because that will attract attendees. When we have a site tour, we’ll bring them to the Botanical Gardens, to the Pen, to the blue turf, to Birds of Prey, to the Discovery Center ... the Basque block, the huge cultural opportunity that’s here.
They say, “I had no idea,” once they get here. That’s the ‘a-ha’ moment. Just hearing that, you know you’ve done your job.
Q: But you have to make Boise appealing enough for them to visit, right? Otherwise, you’ll never get a shot at the ‘a-ha’ moment.
A: We compete very closely with Spokane and Reno and Salt Lake and sometimes Albuquerque, Seattle, Portland. Getting them here we know will make the difference. We’ll even bring them here. We’ll pay to bring them here and have them stay here and roll out the red carpet, because it’s a turning point.
There are other, larger destinations that aren’t able to provide that level of customization because they have 20 things going on at one time.
Q: When we lose out to those competitors, what are the sticking points?
A: There are other destinations that are able to do — it’s almost like they’re paying for the convention. They’re able to do some comped things that we’re not able to offer. They might give $10,000 credit in food and beverage and/or free convention space. Those are the two biggies that, when people are comparing side-by-side, those points come up.
Q: Why doesn’t Boise do that?
A: Other cities — this is just from what I’ve heard — they have different funding available, whether it be a direct tax or marketing thing. They use those dollars to give back to the groups. They’re able to buy down the business and offer incentives that we don’t have.
If that was an area of focus, it would probably be through that relationship [with the Greater Boise Auditorium District, which runs the Boise Centre]. We do destination marketing, and they market the building.
Q: So you can’t promise, ‘We’ll give you freebies?’
A: Yes. And they also have to be sensitive [at GBAD, which collects an additional 5 percent tax for hotel rooms within the district] not to compete with existing hotels. ... They can’t undersell something that’s available in the market.
Q: Is there anything financially that gives us a leg up against, say, Seattle?
A: There’s other factors here. We don’t have a union here, so they aren’t paying the prices [that are paid elsewhere].
We’ve got, definitely, good access, especially for our size market. Boise’s done a tremendous job. We’ve got all the major carriers that fly into here. If there’s a sticking point ... they could get somewhere else faster.
Q: Are airfares to Boise an issue?
A: That’s not a sticking point as much as the other. Especially when they see that the airport is five minutes away, and there’s lots of shuttles.
Q: Do you think a closer relationship with the Boise chamber will help your marketing efforts?
A: All of our stuff that we do — all of our marketing and our public relations efforts and our collateral and our trade shows we go to — all of that’s out of the area. So people don’t touch and see and feel what we do, even though they’re that dry cleaner or that taxi driver. They’re seeing the efforts, they’re reaping the rewards. So having a business entity like the chamber will be good just for awareness of what we do.