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North Idaho sees growth in the travel industry

Tourism is up 32% in Northern Idaho and the only region in the state to see growth in the travel industry, experts said.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — If Silverwood Theme Park ticket sales are an indication of what the area can expect for travel and tourism this summer, a fantastic ride is dead ahead.

Ticket sales are up 63% from pre-COVID 2019 numbers, said director of marketing Jordan Carter, as reported by our news partner, The Coeur d'Alene Press.

A travel and tourism panel presented a positive projection at Tuesday's Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber Upbeat Breakfast.

Speakers included Todd Woodard, director of marketing for Spokane International Airport; Bill Reagan, general manager of The Coeur d’Alene Resort; Matt Sawyer, marketing and sales director for Lookout Pass and the Hiawatha Trail; and Cally King, director of marketing for Hagadone Marine Group.

Silverwood has “big plans” for the 2022 season, including a new train show and a new saloon show, Carter said. A guest survey indicated that when visitors see a live show at the park, they're more likely to tell someone about it and to view admission prices favorably.

Seventy-five percent of Silverwood’s visitors are from out of town. Typically, 8 to 9% are from Canada, though that number is currently a little low, Carter said. Vaccine regulations remaining at the border may be causing some hesitation.

Washington residents brought a huge amount of business to Silverwood during the pandemic, Carter said. Since March 12, when the mask mandate was lifted, ticket sales to Washingtonians have markedly declined.

For The Coeur d’Alene Resort, the biggest change they’ve seen lately has been the “mix of business,” Reagan said. Leisure travel was the biggest contributor over the past several years, but now The Resort is seeing “bigger movements of people” visiting for business purposes.

“We anticipate an extremely busy year,” he said.

Tourism is up in Northern Idaho by 32% from last year, and ours is the only region in the state to see growth in the travel industry, Reagan said. About 23% of the tourism generated throughout the state comes from the Panhandle, he said.

A member of the Coeur d’Alene Visitors Bureau, Reagan said that about 850,000 people visit its website monthly.

Reagan doesn’t deny that a shortage of employees is affecting the service industry nationwide, though he doesn’t believe it has affected the level of service that guests have come to expect at The Resort. He recommends that businesses explore ways to balance the lack of employees with the influx of tourists.

“Manage your menu of services,” Reagan said. “Make sure your people are taken care of.”

Avoiding burnout can be as simple as making sure that we, as residents, take the time to experience what's offered in and around Coeur d’Alene, he said.

“Go out and enjoy. You deserve to enjoy,” Reagan said.

Tourism is the third largest industry in the state, Sawyer said. Visitors to the Hiawatha Trail numbered about 35,000 five years ago. That number has since doubled. Those visiting the trail have two main choices for lodging: Coeur d’Alene or Wallace.

“The impact of tourism is huge for Coeur d’Alene,” Sawyer said. “The Hiawatha is an international trail.”

The trail will be open seven days a week through Sept. 18, and four full-moon night rides are planned. Lookout Pass is also putting in another ski lift and expanding ski routes for next season.

Spokane International Airport is also seeing business growth, Woodard said. Two new airlines, Sun Country and Aha!, have added flights out of Spokane. In 2019, 17 cities were served with non-stop flights, and now the airport serves 21. Seattle and Phoenix are the top two markets bringing visitors to the area.

The pandemic has boosted business in the marine industry, King said. Business for the Resort Cruises has increased by 43% since 2019, and boat rentals have gone up 33.5%.

“Many found a love of getting outside,” King said. “People don’t want to be stuck inside anymore.”

Menus have been elevated for all of the Resort Cruises to offer the gluten free and vegetarian options that many are looking for, King said. Numerous themed cruises are offered, from yoga and mimosa cruises to private candlelight cruises. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Holiday Lights Cruise.

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 News partner. For more news from our partners, click here.

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