Organizers hope to boost Thin Air Festival | ParkRecord.com

Organizers hope to boost Thin Air Festival

Challenges remain as event’s second year nears

Park City Chamber/Bureau president and CEO Bill Malone, right, and Richard Bezemer, executive director of the Thin Air Festival, say they are hopeful the festival can build momentum in its second year.

As the Park City Chamber/Bureau gets ready to present its second annual Thin Air Festival, its organizers admit the event hasn't yet come close to developing into the phenomenon they hope it one day will.

But they're anticipating that Year 2 will get them closer to that goal.

Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said the organizers are optimistic word will continue to spread about the festival, which aims to draw businesses and organizations from around the country to hold retreats in Park City at the end of ski season. People who bring their businesses and partake in the festival's panel discussions, as well as experience everything Park City has to offer, will be likely to return next year — and they may convince a friend or colleague to come, too.

"It's real important," he said. "The fact that our goal is not to occupy people 24 hours a day on this — they're here to enjoy the community — is big because they'll be able to ski and everything. It's important that those attending book again and share that."

The ultimate mission of the festival, scheduled for April 5-7, is to bring thousands of people to town each spring during a time when visitation is beginning to wane. Malone said lodges and restaurants shouldn't expect a huge bump in business this year, but the Chamber/Bureau is working hard to overcome the obstacles in the way of that vision.

One the biggest challenges was trying to sell the conference to businesses and organization around the country before the festival's extensive slate of speakers was finalized in the months leading up to the event. Malone said the festival simply doesn't have the history to draw visitors on reputation alone, and people want to know for certain they'll be rewarded with a fulfilling experience before they book their tickets.

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"We know we have to get faster out of the gate with who's speaking, what topics and the talent," he said. "Because people need much more lead time in order to say, 'Let's bring a group.'"

It's also been difficult to find a partner that can market the festival to the masses, Malone said. The Chamber/Bureau has been in talks with several business publications with national followings, but most want to take ownership of the event themselves.

Regardless of those hindrances, though, Malone and the other organizers believe they can capitalize on a few tweaks to the festival to give it a boost heading into next year's event. For example, the opening night celebration will be held at the DeJoria Center in Kamas instead of the Eccles Center, which will allow for a festive atmosphere and for food and drinks to be served.

Additionally, breakout conferences that explore various topics related to the festival's theme of leadership performance will be held at the Santy Auditorium and O.P. Rockwell, rather than last year's locations, which ranged from Utah Olympic Park to Park City Mountain Resort.

That means all the events will be a walkable distance from each other and close to Main Street, making it a better experience for guests.

Another major change is choosing to focus the festival around the theme of high performance — whether it be in sports, individual pursuits or business. Richard Bezemer, the festival's executive director, said this year's event will focus specifically on how people or organizations can put themselves in positions to lead.

So far, the speakers who will participate in the breakout sessions and panels are excited about the possibilities the theme presents to discuss important issues with people from a broad spectrum of industries and backgrounds.

People who will speak or participate in panel discussions at the festival include David Pottruck, a former CEO of Charles Schwab who will moderate the opening-night event; Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare; Hoby Darling, the former CEO and president of Skullcandy; and Bob Wheaton, the general manager of Deer Valley Resort.

"People seem really excited at the idea of talking about the issues that matter to them and bounce the ideas and conversations off people who come at those issues from completely different perspectives," Bezemer said.

Malone said the feedback the Chamber/Bureau has heard so far is encouraging, and he's eager to see how the festival plays out. But he's quick to acknowledge that there's still a long ways to go.

"Year 1 was kind of the testing of it," he said. "I think we learned a lot and it's kind of changed some of the things we've done. … We're gaining momentum with the word getting out. But we're not where we ultimately want to be. We want it to get this to the point where it becomes more recognizable as a way to end the ski season."

Tickets for the festival are still available, starting at $85 for a single-day lounge package. To purchase, or for more information, visit thinairparkcity.com.