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Visit Big Sky shifts focus from marketing to management

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Brad Niva speaks to attendees of the Visit Big Sky Marketing Luncheon on May 13. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – On the cusp of another busy tourist season in Big Sky, the community’s marketing and management organization is shifting from hard pushes to sell the destination to educating visitors on how to responsibly enjoy their stays.

At the annual Visit Big Sky Marketing Outlook Luncheon today, presenters discussed the growing tourism economy in Big Sky and the state as well as how this growth can be responsibly managed. About 60 business owners from a variety of sectors gathered to hear five speakers present on topics ranging from how to use social media to boost business, what the state of Montana is doing to bring in tourism and how Big Sky can enhance visitor experience.

Brad Niva, CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and VBS, shared in his presentation that in order for VBS to shift away from marketing efforts, it plans to put dollars toward projects aimed at managing Big Sky as a destination and enhance visitor experience.

Niva shares a John Muir quote to kick off his presentation. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

“As Big Sky has grown, we’re hitting a capacity issue,” Niva said. “All of our hotels are full, our restaurants are full [and] lift lines are longer. …our shift…doesn’t mean we stop marketing, but we do need to continue to communicate with our visitors and so to educate them about how to be a good visitor.”

Some of that communication will come in the form of new wayfinding signage which Niva said is currently being updated as well as the new “Love Big Sky Like a Local” education campaign which gives tourists tips on how to be respectful. He also announced that VBS is part of an effort to update the Google Street View in Big Sky which currently uses photos snapped in 2015. Over the course of three days in the first week of June, all 32 miles of road in Big Sky will be recaptured to help visitors find their way in the current Big Sky.

To support local businesses, Niva said he’s working on a new tourism industry website and newsletter which will be distributed to businesses monthly and provide them with up-to-date data about Big Sky to help inform staffing decisions.

In an effort to build visitor services and step more firmly into the role of destination manager rather than marketer, VBS in its fiscal year ‘23 application made a $333,600 request to the Big Sky Resort Area District Board for funds to build new public restrooms in Fire Pit Park in Town Center.

“We’re not using any resort tax dollars for traditional marketing at all,” Niva said. “It’s only going to go to infrastructure and making our community better.”

Following Niva’s presentation, Haley Walter, campaign manager for Visit Montana, said that the state is seeing record breaking numbers in bed tax collections as well as growth in all regions.

The state’s focus based on that growth, Walter said, is public education and pushing out “recreate responsibly” messaging.

Additionally, Walter said Visit Montana is working to promote the spread of tourists across the whole state to relieve pressure on highly-trafficked areas. The state will also be switching to an “always-on” marketing model, intended to support visitation during shoulder seasons.

Big Sky is the largest collector of the 4 percent lodging facility use tax across the state, according to Montana Office of Tourism data, raking in a total of $4,948,727 million in 2021 with Bozeman as a close second collecting $4,455,700.

Big Sky has “enough visitors,” Niva said, and now it’s time to pull back on marketing and focus on communicating with those visitors.

Niva said that the Big Sky community has already done a good job marketing and managing itself as a destination and he wants to see that continue in the future.

“That’s our job,” he said, “to continue to inspire people to take the time to work on their business and work on our experience, make sure our visitors leave here going, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”

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