Sun Valley, Idaho came to fame in the 1940s and 1950s when Hollywood arrived, with films from stars like Abbott & Costello, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Glenn Miller. The area was also home to Ernest Hemingway (he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls there, as well as being buried in the local cemetery) and other celebrities. Sun Valley is now home to only a few thousand people, but the mountain town and surrounding areas are a tourist mecca for skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“Sun Valley is a small destination mountain town nestled in the south central part of Idaho. While we’re known for our skiing history, this place has added an incredible line-up of arts & cultural, dining and wellness offerings to round out the recreational opportunities,” said Ray Gadd, director marketing & public relations at Visit Sun Valley. “Visit Sun Valley is a nonprofit destination marketing and management organization representing the greater Sun Valley area.”
Despite their unique personality as a resort town, and only a few hours from Boise, Sun Valley weathered the pandemic because they are a perfect escape for those who want to be secluded, while still having access to some amenities.
“The numbers that we track varied across the board and painted an interesting picture. We saw a reduction in our lodging occupancy and airline enplanement numbers,” Gadd said. “On the other hand, local tax collections, home sales, and recreational usage figures were all up.”
The town has seen a sort of “return to normal” with lodging numbers, but Gadd said, “It’s hard to say if things will ever be back to the way we used to know them. Travelers showed more confidence in visiting Sun Valley beginning this past summer with lodging and enplanement numbers returning. While visitation continues to increase, we are still faced with challenges seen across much of the country including labor shortages and supply chain delays. We will need to find a better balance between these two divergences before we can feel a true sense of normalcy.”
Because of the uptick in real estate numbers, Sun Valley is seeing a rise in seasonal residents during summer and other vacations — while also seeing additional tourists all year round. The Sun Valley Resort is one of the largest conference centers in the state, which has brought conferences from around the world to town.
“Traditionally, Sun Valley has seen a strong group business base. Aside from weddings, that realm has drastically declined. We’re seeing more independent travelers choosing short term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, professionally managed properties) and hotel accommodations,” Gadd explained. “With schools back in session, family visits are tapering back to the time periods in which there are school breaks.”
Tourism companies around the world have been changing since 2019, and it’s yet to be seen where things will end up. Gadd said he is welcome to some of the changes and seeing how tourism in Sun Valley will evolve.
“It’s hard to say what we’ll see out of the future of tourism,” he explained. “Our vision would be one that has a sustainable balance of visitors that are spread out across all times of the year and across experiences to be enjoyed here. Additionally, we’d like to continue working towards a sustainable balance for the local workforce and visitors to have equal opportunities to live and enjoy this place to the fullest.”