Idaho’s rugged mountain ranges, numerous lakes, rivers and streams, verdant forests, scenic deserts and abundant wildlife rival the beauty of any state, but for Karen Ballard, the Gem State’s exceptional citizens are what give its quality of life an edge over virtually anywhere else in the nation.
Ballard, administrator of the Idaho Department of Commerce’s tourism division, says the hospitality and warmth of Idahoans are as much key factors in the success of attracting visitors to the state as are diverse, stunning geography and numerous recreational opportunities within its 82,413 square miles.
Idaho’s $3.5 billion annual tourism industry has been and continues to be a crucial segment of the state’s economy. As of 2008, 26,000 Idaho jobs were in the tourism sector, representing nearly 4 percent of the state’s non-farm job employment.
Only about 11 percent of travelers come to Idaho solely for business purposes. Most combine business and pleasure in their trips. An estimated 81 percent of day trips and 84 percent of overnight trips are for leisure.
Of the money spent by those who travel to and through Idaho, about 29 percent is for lodging, 23 percent for food and beverages, 19 percent for retail purchases, 17 percent for transportation and 12 percent on a myriad of recreational options.
In 2008, nearly 32 million people visited Idaho with 57 percent or 18.2 million coming for day trips. The vast majority of visitors who come to Idaho live in the West – 85 percent. Ballard says the fact 35 percent of them are Idahoans who enjoy spending vacations in their own state speaks volumes about the state’s “enjoyable attributes” and friendliness of its residents.
Because of their conservative disposition, Idahoans tend not to be “gossipy or intrusive,” but they also are creative, which visitors like, says Ballard, who adds many visitors have indicated to her they appreciate the civility and graciousness of the state’s citizens.
“It is very rare for Idahoans to be resentful of visitors and not extend courtesy and be very kind,” she says, mentioning Europeans find Boise very manageable and safe. “Idahoans make my job a lot easier.”
Known for its parks, trees and landscaping, the state’s capital and largest city has a small town feel and big city amenities. The Idaho Shakespeare Festival convened at an outdoor venue along the Boise River is recognized by peers as one of the premier programs of its kind.
Producing great corporate giants like J.R. Simplot and Joe Albertson, as well as a high percentage of world class athletes, attests to Idaho’s underlying strength of character, Ballard says.
The fact there are 300 alpine lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains and 30 scenic byways coursing through the state makes Idaho a magnetic destination for travelers. “Pick any road and you will find something of interest,” Ballard says.
With more than one million acres, Idaho has more wilderness than any other state in the contiguous 48 states. Mountains soar above 12,000 feet in contrast to Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Thirteen national forests and extensive back country enhance fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking and exploring.
For those who live in Idaho and are not outside visitors, the state’s diversified economy has been advantageous in securing a high standard of living. In addition to traditional industries such as agriculture, forestry and mining, growth sectors include high technology, manufacturing, retail trade, health care and information-oriented services.
On the basis of average housing costs, utilities, health care, transportation, groceries and other services, Idaho’s cost of living was the lowest of 11 western states in 2009. The combined total of state and local taxes on income, property, sales and vehicles in Boise was lower than the largest cities in 25 to 37 other states, depending on annual income ranges, in 2009.
“I feel we are really blessed to have so many lovely attributes available to us,” Ballard says.
Mark Mendiola is a Pocatello writer focusing on eastern Idaho issues.Share on Facebook