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Blaine County tourism sees return to normal despite increased costs

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BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Across the country, COVID restrictions are becoming a thing of the past. Now, people are headed back out to travel, which has meant tourism numbers reaching pre-pandemic highs.

“We do a lot of travel bookings and we’ve seen that March, April, and May bookings are, actually, about 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels,” said Matthew Conde of AAA Idaho.

In Blaine County, where tourism tax dollars bring in tens of millions of dollars annually, a lack of travel restrictions meant a winter of pre-pandemic norms, seeing strews of visitors visiting the ski destination.

But, increased gas prices mean concerns about the ability of in-state visitors coming to the area.

“The southern part of Blaine County, Hailey, Bellevue and a lot of the camping around here in the Wood River Valley does appeal to more of a drive-to audience,” said Mike McKenna, Executive Director of Chamber of Hailey and the Wood River Valley. “And so far, our numbers are looking terrific for the spring, which is technically the quiet part of the year, and it’s looking good for the summer.”

According to Conde, Americans are ready to get back on the road, no matter the cost.

“About half of the people who plan to travel this summer will travel no matter what the prices are doing. So there is a resiliency there, in the light of the pandemic and everything that’s going on, there’s a certain grit-your-teeth-and-go mentality that’s kind of gripping a lot of people,” Conde said.

And for those visiting Blaine County, events like the Sun Valley Film Festival, which have been missing for years, are making their return.

“That’s the quality of life that we’ve been missing; connecting with one another, live music, all that fun stuff,” McKenna said. “So it’s really as exciting, both as the guy who runs the chamber and as a local dad and husband who likes to have these things happen too.”

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