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Catch, Fleece and Release

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Local business doing a poor job of capturing the tourist market

SANDPOINT, Idaho -“When we talk about how towns can focus on capturing tourist dollars, we refer to the process as catch, fleece and release,” stated Lorraine Roach of the Hingston Roach Group, a subcontractor of the Hudson Team. The Hudson Group is an experienced city planning and marketing firm that was hired by the city of Sandpoint and the Sandpoint Business Association (SBA) to identify action plans aimed at improving the economy in downtown Sandpoint. The first steps taken by the Hudson Group focused on updating the city and the SBA on people’s opinions. Community input came from a public meeting conducted by Tom Hudson on October 11th. (See story in Oct. 24 TRJ) Business input was gathered by surveying business within the Business Improvement District (BID).

    Three hundred and forty surveys were mailed on September 21st. There were 24 questions and 96 surveys were returned, representing a 28% return rate. The tabulated results, as well as regional and state statistical trends, were presented by Roach in an extremely interesting presentation that lasted approximately 2.5 hours and was principally directed at business owners and the Sandpoint City Council. The report included a market analysis, business survey results and a discussion of the implications.

    Sandpoint has grown by 23% in the last ten years, or 2.1% annually. Bonner County has grown by 38%. The median age of Sandpoint residents increased minimally to 36.5, with the county moving from 36.3 to 40.8 years of age, the oldest of all five northern counties. Bonner County is also 23% higher than all of Idaho, reflecting that many baby boomers have settled in Bonner County. If growth remains the same, Sandpoint can expect to have approximately 8,400 residents by the year 2010. Twenty-two percent of Sandpoint citizens are under age 55, 49% are under 35 years of age and 30% are under 19 years of age.

    In the area of wages, there was a 33% growth from 1990, but that only moved the average from $16,244 to $21,626 in 1999. Data comparing 1990 to 1998 showed the lowest income bracket and the highest income bracket both decreasing, with upper-mid- income increasing. That translates to a stronger showing of positions in the $35,000-$75,000 range. Household income for Bonner County, measured as per capita income (PCI), in 1999 was slightly lower than Sandpoint at $18,955 which is 83% of Idaho state’s PCI and 66% of the national PCI.

    In the area of tourism it was reported that 8.8 million estimated total travel parties moved through the five northern Idaho counties. This sub-set included inter-regional residents, pass-through residents, residents within a region, non-resident visitors and non-resident people passing through. Of the reported parties, 47% stated they were traveling for pleasure, 42% for daily affairs and 11% for business. The concept is in part to determine who is traveling through the five Northern counties—North Idaho residents or visitors—and are they arbitrarily stopping, deliberately seeking something in Idaho or by-passing the region.

    When Sandpoint was compared as a destination we scored 35% in the winter (vs. 33% in CDA), but only 14% in the summer (20% CDA), 7% in the fall (47% CDA) and 6% in the spring (46% CDA). The conclusion is that Sandpoint is missing our “shoulder” seasons, causing increased fluctuation in the economy and unstable employment opportunities. Statistics about the trip purpose and length of visit showed that Sandpoint is not capitalizing on business travel or utilizing our conference space. Because winter stays are the shortest, it was recommended that more alternative/indoor attractions (besides skiing) be created. It was additionally suggested that other cities had focused energies on increasing the stay of the visitor by one day, which made a substantial impact on dollars spent by the visitor. Regrettably, while Idaho hotel sales rose by 41%, Sandpoint is virtually flat with a 13% growth rate from 1991 to 2000. The sales chart looked level until May when it began increasing, with a spike in September, followed by an immediate drop through December.

    The completed business surveys crossed all business sectors by type and location (the BID was carved into five sectors). In rating the overall business climate, 37% are very or somewhat satisfied, while 37% are very or somewhat dissatisfied. The restaurant/beverage, banking/finance and insurance categories were most dissatisfied. Personal/Business services, retail and real estate were most satisfied (although 1/3 of retail were dissatisfied). Twenty-two percent stated they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Sixteen percent stated they were very dissatisfied (part of the 37% noted above).

    The most interesting results were not the areas of concern, but the fact that 40% of businesses stated their business grew in the last three years. The majority of reported customers were Bonner County residents, with only 25% sales reported from other counties for 75% of the respondents. Less than 10% reported significant revenues from tourists. The conclusion was that we are supporting our local businesses as residents and we are not capturing the tourist dollar. It could also mean that increased sales may not result in a direct correlation to our level of satisfaction. Of the noted challenges/concerns, 37% listed parking and or traffic, 18% said the economy/seasonality, 12% said negative image and attitudes. Other areas noted were competition, the bypass, the government and the downtown business mix. Based on the respondent’s feedback on the amount spent on advertising, the total was between $1.5-3.5 million, with the probable effect of many mixed messages not coherently targeting key groups with a clear message. It was suggested that if the downtown businesses pooled their dollars with a suggested contribution of 10%, the net effect would be $150,000-$350,000 that could be spent on a high level video statement about Sandpoint, or some other high level campaign to key target tourist markets like Seattle.

    Other suggested ideas were: Developing more housing options downtown to create some city synergy; Develop a social center for events and entertainment; Focus on Sand Creek as a million dollar amenity; and develop customer amenities such as lighting improvements, restrooms and bike racks. Look at the growth of Kootenai and Spokane as potential markets based on their growth, and also because both Coldwater Creek and Schweitzer are already drawing on these market bases. Lastly, bolster the shoulder seasons for capturing tourist dollars.

    There was so much great information that people should contact the Sandpoint Business Association directly for more information on our economic development strengths and weaknesses.You can reach the Business Association at 208-255-1876.

 

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Carol Curtis

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