I’ve heard rumors for weeks that spring is right around the corner, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I spent all day Thursday traveling from Kalispell, Montana, to Sheridan and had the pleasure of driving through a heady mix of sleet, snow and wind that was so ferocious it tore a wheel off an oncoming trailer and bounced it right across my lane. Spring has sprung!
Anyway, back to Kalispell. I went all the way up to the borderlands to participate in the annual Rocky Mountain International Roundup trade show. IRU is billed as:
“Not your typical tradeshow. In just two days of intensive pre-scheduled business appointments, over 80 organizations from around the Real America region, and nearly 50 international and domestic buyers from more than 10 countries, conduct business negotiations that result in the generation of more than $130 million in future travel to the four-state region of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. At IRU, buyers and sellers are able to conduct business that would otherwise be generated only through an exhaustive number of around-the-world trips.”
All this to say I had the opportunity to meet with 42 buyers — receptive tour operators, international magazines and media outlets, tour sellers and more — from countries like the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Germany, France, Belgium and Australia. I had 10 minutes with each buyer, where my one and only goal was to market, promote and sell Sheridan as a destination. These 10-minute speed-dating sessions can often mean the difference between a buyer heavily and actively promoting our community to their clients or overlooking us completely. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of pressure to have my sales pitch on point.
By virtue of geography, Sheridan is on the radar for many of the buyers (both domestic and international) for the simple reason that Sheridan is halfway between Yellowstone and the Black Hills. But in the three years I’ve been attending IRU, I’ve seen a change in what the buyers are requesting: they’re no longer simply looking for a place to send visitors for a night between national parks.
Buyers are now looking at Sheridan as a destination and requesting information on everything from craft culture to the arts to Bighorn backpacking expeditions. The European market is interested in cowboy culture and dude ranches, Indian War history, wildlife excursions and small-town charm — all the goods we’ve got in spades.
Our community marketing efforts have become quite cohesive and well-targeted, and we’re now reaping the rewards. In addition to buyers requesting more information on Sheridan’s experiential attractions, we’re hearing more and more that guests would like to visit us during the shoulder seasons — late May, and September through October. Extending our core visitor season is good news for the entire community; it means more revenue for local businesses, more exposure from a marketing perspective and more jobs.
So while it may not quite look like spring is here, it’s coming — and with plenty of visitors in tow.
Shawn Parker is executive director of Sheridan Travel & Tourism.