The recreation economy versus the tourism economy

Posted on June 18, 2013 in Area Economics, In The Press

Opinion by Willem Braak & Rick Certano. Rick has been Brundage Mountain’s president for the past 7 years; Willem is the University of Idaho Extension Educator in Valley County. Both have been involved in a community wide collaboration on economic development.
This post was published as a viewpoint in the McCall Star-News of June 12, 2013.

It takes a biker to know a good bike-trail; a snowmobiler to appreciate good terrain. All of us living here have at least a favorite outdoor activity, if not several. A discussion among locals eventually turns to that favorite activity, even discussions on economic development. Eighteen months ago some forty Valley County business and community leaders gathered in Cascade and different teams discussed different approaches of economic development. One team, positively biased by the healthy lifestyle the outdoors offers proposed to brand us as the “Healthy, Connected Mountain Lake Community”. Another team focused on the region as a gateway to the Idaho Rockies: back-country adventure, back-country experience, back-country entrepreneurship. Though every team started out talking about how tourists should spend more money in Valley County, they all ended up talking about the best fishing hole, the epic bike rides, the brilliant powder days, soaking in hot springs after snowmobiling, the unofficial county shut-down on October 15 at the start of Elk Hunting and other favorite outdoor pursuits. The discussion started with tourism and ended up about recreation – making a living versus living a life.

The group’s conclusion was striking: a tourist economy puts the visitor first and is always hungry for more visitors to increase business; a recreation economy puts the experience first regardless who it is for – resident, 2nd home owner, retiree or visitor. Whereas a tourist economy, much like Disney World, shuts down when the visitors leave, we saw the recreation economy as having a much broader base – retaining and attracting residents (and their business) because of the amenities that the region has to offer. It would cater to those people, a growing population segment, that decide where to live first and then create a living in support or compatible with their lifestyle. Recreation, from this perspective, would be the start from which to diversify our economy and not the end point. Visitors, in that scenario, are then frosting on the cake.

This community-wide conversation did not stop in Cascade, but continued at several levels and in several community groups. Fast forward 18 months. We are at the brink of our first Recreation Summit for the region. The impetus was the initiative from the Winter Recreation Committee and the McCall Area Chamber to organize a region-wide survey for winter recreation. The initiative received funding from the Idaho Department of Tourism, Valley County and the City of McCall – all part of the October discussion in Cascade. On June 20 the community has a chance to learn from the results: what can we improve in our amenities; what do the different user groups (visitors, residents, 2nd home owners) have in common; how can we use the results to further our recreation economy. We hope that everyone interested in recreation, furthering our economy or stewarding our amenities will come.

The Recreation Summit will be held at the Shore Lodge from 1:00 to 6:30PM and will have some exciting speakers, among others Emilyn Sheffield, Professor of Recreation and Parks Management at California State University, and Karan Ballard, Chief Tourism Officer with Idaho Department of Commerce. The event will end with a social hour (cash bar). Register free at www.ValleyEDC.org/events/ recreation-summit.

1 Comment

  1. This is good material, I only hope it gets used to good advantage.