By Steve Stuebner
Jeff Sayer, Director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, had a life-changing experience on a Middle Fork Salmon River trip, and he said that helps him understand the intrinsic value of outfitted trips in a speech to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association at the annual meeting.
The Middle Fork trip was a U.S. Forest Service trip that involved several Idaho outfitters and guides, Sayer said. He rode with Dirk Gibson, owner of Adventure Guides, a Middle Fork outfitter, and Gibson proceeded to grill him about his life and priorities as they floated down the beautiful canyon.
“It was a time when I was ready to change and start something different,” Sayer said. “That trip literally changed my life.”
As director of Commerce, an agency that oversees the $3.4 billion travel and tourism industry in the state, Sayer said he hopes to help Idaho get more national recognition for its travel and tourism assets. “Idaho has so much to offer, but it seems that we’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Idaho. We’ve got a great story to tell.”
Two things that get a lot of national recognition are the Boise State Broncos’ blue AstroTurf and Idaho potatoes, Sayer said. “Those are two things that I’d like to piggy-back on to give us more recognition,” he said.
Technology is changing rapidly in American society, he noted, and it behooves tourism officials, as well as outfitters, to stay on top of those trends to capture more customers. Smart phones are one area that’s seeing big growth. Web sites should be retooled to ensure that they’re friendly for smart phone users, he said. He mentioned a web platform called Responsive Design that readily adapts to the devices using the web site.
“The latest information I have is that one-half of all travel trips will be booked with smart phones in the near future,” he said. “This is one change we should be ready for.”
In a vacation in the Black Hills, Sayer and his wife, used their smart phones to access a guided tour of the area on their smart phones. They clicked on a QR code, and “the whole Black Hills experience was opened up to us on our phones,” he said. A narrator explained the sights and sounds of the area, greatly enhancing the drive.
Another idea Sayer shared was about marketing the activities in Idaho that are special, and not necessarily just the Idaho brand. For example, web sites could focus on the activity, such as hunting, whitewater rafting or recreation. “Why not choose the activity and make that the destination?” he said.
Along those lines, Idaho Outfitters and Guides have been working on creating a brand and web site called “Raft Idaho.” More on that topic to come.
“You guys represent the best of what Idaho’s backcountry has to offer,” Sayer said. “We’ve got to get creative and work on this together. Why not call Idaho “America’s Backcountry?” I’m excited to work with your new director, John May, on lots of these new ideas.”