Business Insider

Where next, traveler? Somewhere in ‘bland, ordinary’ Idaho?

Idaho tourism seems to be booming. An economic impact of about $3 billion, around 30,000 jobs in the industry, and, closer to home, three new hotels going up right now in Boise (bringing more jobs). What else could we want?

I can think of two things: a clearer image to potential visitors and, perhaps, focused preparation and startups in the field.

I’ve got vacation on my mind — I just returned from one — and I’m suffering jet lag, so my ideas may sound wacky. (But they often do even without jet lag). My recent trip made me wonder what Idaho has to offer and whether we can do it better.

I started with the “Idaho Image Research” report issued in November. It startled me. It said Idaho’s image is “bland and ordinary.” OK, plus two more words that were a little better: “safe and affordable.” But its point was that we have qualities similar to nearby states, like Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming, but have not differentiated.

The report suggests marketing to families, which makes sense, especially with the campaign on building memories.

But could we find a way to tap markets of people seeking unusual experiences that may be available only here?

I remember that when I first arrived in Boise, there was a sort of “February triathalon:” golfing in the morning, tennis in the afternoon, and skiing at night. How do we — could we — package “three in one” experiences that stretch from the outdoors to culture?

Outfitters focus on mostly outdoor experiences like hunting or fishing, but what about cross-experience packages, perhaps on a theme? Think “A Midsummer’s Dream:” rafting, biking and an Idaho Shakespeare play on Day 1; and mountain biking on top of Bogus, wineries and outdoor opera on Day 2?

If we create more-differentiated experiences, would we need people with more specialized training? I can imagine some clever startups around “experience creation and delivery” when it comes to tourism. I know we do well in tech startups. Could we do the same with another industry that is so important for us?

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University.; This column appears in the May 17-June 14, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on travel.