POCATELLO — Southeast Idaho has a new representative on the Idaho Travel Council.
Jeff Glissendorf has a long history in the hospitality industry. He is currently the general manager of TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Pocatello where he has worked since 2013. He previously worked at hotels in California and Tennessee, and he was part of the team that opened the Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel in Fort Hall in 2012.
Glissendorf was appointed to the Idaho Travel Council in late January by Gov. Brad Little. He replaces Matt Hunter, president and CEO of the Pocatello-Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce, and will serve for a three-year term.
According to a press release from Idaho Tourism announcing Glissendorf’s appointment, “The Idaho Travel Council's primary purpose is to advise the Idaho Department of Commerce-Tourism Development activities and programs. The council also awards grants to applicants of the Idaho Regional Travel and Convention Grant Program. Additionally, council members work closely with tourism organizations and businesses in Idaho on viable marketing opportunities and ways to represent their interests to state government.”
Glissendorf also serves as the board chair for both Visit Pocatello and the chamber of commerce, and he is a member of the Idaho State University Business Technology Advisory Board.
The East Idaho Business Journal recently sat down with Glissendorf at TownePlace Suites to chat with him about his background, his new role on the Travel Council and his thoughts about tourism in Idaho.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
East Idaho Business Journal: What do you think makes you a good fit for the Idaho Travel Council?
Jeff Glissendorf: I’ve been taking small steps in the community for years. About five years ago, I was invited to be part of Visit Pocatello. So I started there, and you just slowly get your feet involved in things. It’s a big networking town. I’m the chamber board chair this year, which is fun, (but because of the COVID-19 pandemic) there’s nothing going on and I’m not allowed to do anything. Normally you get to get out there and do fun stuff and get to be a part of the community and spearhead this and do ISU Bengal drives. It’s been a rough year, not an exciting year to do that.
I’m the chair of Visit Pocatello as well, so I’m very much involved in that organization. That one just propelled me to the next because in Visit Pocatello, you’re really dealing with the grants and the items that the Travel Council assigned to the region and the area. The Travel Council kind of sits above it all and says, “OK, let’s make these rules and figure out what we’re going to do with the tourism dollars and tax dollars. How are we going to be able to give it back to everyone in their communities and how are we going to spend it?” So we get a grant at Visit Pocatello that’s awarded by the Idaho Travel Council.
So in a roundabout answer, my involvement in all the other things got me into the (Travel Council) because I’ve spent enough time for four or five years now working with the other tourism groups and kind of getting myself known and out there for being the tourism guy. I did become a Pocatello Chief this year, and they gave me Chief Tourism title. It’s all volunteer, so I don’t get paid for any of it but I put anywhere from four to 20 hours a week in depending on what’s going on and where. It’s almost like a second job, though. It basically is. It includes running the visitors center down on South Fifth Avenue. I’m really excited for that Maverik (gas station to be completed) because we really want to get some signs there and drive people to the visitors center and the rose garden, because nobody knows that beautiful rose garden is there either.
EIBJ: Where do you spend the grant money from the Travel Council?
JG: When (the Travel Council) gives a grant, the grant says, “Our goal is to get heads in beds and bring them into our community.” It’s a 50-mile radius, so we’re allowed to advertise in Idaho Falls and Twin Falls and a lot in Salt Lake City, and we go up to Canada, adventure shows and those kinds of things, and try to show off everything from our bike paths to our rivers to everything we can do here. We push the (East Fork Mink Creek) Nordic Center very, very hard with cross-country (skiing), but it didn’t work the best this year because there wasn’t a ton of snow. Normally we partner with Pebble Creek (Ski Area) to get people to Pebble. We do things called co-op opportunities with Lava Hot Springs. We’re not really the one destination here, I hate to say it. I’d love to say that Pocatello was a destination, but you’re usually pulling people off the freeway who are going to Yellowstone (National Park) or coming to the area. It’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to spend four days in Pocatello.” It’s usually, “Hey, I’ll spend one day in Lava, stay a day in Pocatello, go up to Island Park or wherever for another couple of days.” So it’s really trying to drive the tourism off the freeways and into the businesses.
EIBJ: How important do you think tourism is to our local economy here?
JG: We saw tons of visitors from Florida and everywhere else this year just going to our great outdoors and they’re hitting your McDonald’s or your Walmart or getting gas. They break down and need tires like everybody else. They obviously need hotel rooms. … When events are gone, people start noticing, “Hey, wait a sec. Where’d they go?” This year, there’s no Simplot Games and my hotel numbers are down because of that one weekend where we sell out three or four days with Simplot.
Tourism impacts the community greatly, whether people realize it or not. I think we are kind of protected here in Pocatello, meaning we’re in our safe little shell, which is wonderful in some ways. It’s been great for COVID and riots and those kinds of things because we’ve been safe to a general standard and enjoyed it. I think sometimes our businesses are the same way. They focus on what’s in town and they want to go to chamber events, but they don’t realize how many people come here from out of town. That’s education, too. Part of Visit Pocatello is they want to educate people.
Those of us who live here and have lived here know that Pocatello is a jewel. There’s tons to do. It’s maybe not the same as San Diego where you have street fairs and beaches and Sea Worlds, but you have to look a little differently for things to do. I mean, I have two little kids and I occupy my family every day of the week and we’re always looking for stuff to do. I think it’s just getting those jewels out there and getting the businesses and everybody to be proud of their town. It’s just getting people to be like, “Pocatello is a great place to live.”
EIBJ: What is your elevator pitch to people about what there is to do in Pocatello?
JG: It really depends who you are and what you’re looking for. The last couple months, we’ve been pushing our unique museums. It’s a little colder outside. The Museum of Clean, the Bannock County Historical Museum and the natural history museum at ISU are all very nice. The Museum of Clean is one you’re not going to find in any other city. The younger crowd is not always excited; older crowds seem to like it a little bit more. But I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told, “Go, check out those places,” and they’ll come back and just be like, “Wow. That blew me away.”
I send a lot of people to Old Town and they’re very surprised at what they find in Old Town. I think you typically have old towns in every town you come into. I think people like the fact that ours is one main street. You go down to First Friday Art Walk, which is a fun one in general, and you can walk six city blocks. It’s a good hour and a half, two hours. It’s an easy stroll and you’re not getting too much, you’re not missing too much. Again, in San Diego or Nashville or wherever, it’s monstrous. Pocatello’s downtown is a manageable size. Those kinds of gems, the staircases, the hidden trails sometimes I think are really really unique.
Places like Edson Fichter park, you’ve got the wellness complex. A lot of families are like, “Hey, I want to go swimming. We want to go rafting.” I say, "Well, let’s just start by the Portneuf River or our local lakes." They can rent jet skis and do that kind of thing or come out and get paddle boards or kayaks or mountain bikes, those kind of fun things. Lava obviously is a draw and I do try to push Lava. I really try to encourage guests to go out and check out the hot pools and Soda Springs. So I try and sell the area. Come back here as your home base, but there’s tons of cool stuff in American Falls. Massacre Rocks is beautiful.
I really like up north, too. I’m a big one for Warm River and Mesa Falls and those kinds of areas. I even push our guests up to Jackson sometimes for a day trip — the back way through Soda Springs so they can check out the old Soda stuff and then come back, not to kick them out of town completely.
Trails are something we really push hard out here obviously. There’s trails everywhere. Obviously it’s mostly outdoor, but in the summer, we push the breweries because they have bands on Friday and Saturday nights. My World Discovery Museum over in the mall people really like. Geronimos Trampoline Park. Just depends how many kids you have with you and depends on what you want to do. I can keep people busy for days.
EIBJ: What’s your background?
JG: I grew up in Milwaukee and moved to North Dakota, Ohio and then to here when I was a junior in high school. My parents moved us to Idaho Falls in 1989. My dad actually opened the Budweiser plant up there way back when. I spent two years there. As a teenager, I was going, “Get me out of Idaho.” I had no appreciation, plus I was mad as a teenager that my parents moved us to Idaho. So I joined the Navy as soon as I got out of high school, went to San Diego, fell into some hotels there. I got out of the Navy and was doing odds and ends things, ran into a beautiful hotel right on the ocean and started talking to a manager, and I got offered a job the next day. It just went from there. Very different worlds. I never expected to end up back in Idaho.
EIBJ: How did you end up back here?
JG: In 2004-05, I came back up here for a little bit to work and I met my current wife. We moved to San Diego and had two little girls in San Diego. One was born in 2009 and one in 2011. We were sitting down there and paying $650 per child for daycare and sitting in stores and waiting on the freeways, paying $1,400 to $1,500 for rent for a two-bedroom apartment. As much as as I love the beaches and Charger games, the thing is girls grow up a little quicker down there. We basically said, “Look, let’s go back to Idaho. Let’s find a place where family values are more important than anything else and cost of living is good.”
So I started looking and actually opened the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel at the time. It just worked perfectly. It was the fall of 2011 when I started I started looking for a job and I got hired up there in January of 2012. It was still dirt. We opened in August 2012. I was part of the opening team there. I was the second one hired; there was one person above me. Then I basically wrote all the standard operating procedures and hired everybody and put all the systems in. So that was fun.
And then someone called me one day and said, “Hey, Marriott is looking to hire,” and I was actually already looking in other places. I was looking in Wisconsin and other places where I’d grown up for my next stop. I just started falling in love with Pocatello.
EIBJ: Tell me a little bit more about what the Travel Council does
JG: The Travel Council reviews grants from every area. They are usually involved with any laws that have to do with tourism taxes, where they go. They’re kind of a governing body over “let’s create this tax, let’s move this tax from this percent to that percent” — any of the politics behind any of the tourism stuff that happens in the state. Right now there’s a 2 percent tax on the state, so every guest who comes in pays a 2 percent state occupancy tax above the 6 percent tax. It’s a hotel tax, and that’s where the money the Travel Council gets comes from usually. That money in general is used to market the state. There’s a state tourism department that targets overseas.
The grantee process is anybody who wants a grant can go before the board, before the Travel Council, and say, “Hey, I want to open an amusement park, I want to do this, and it’ll bring people in from out of state.” It’s a lot of event sponsorship. There’s always talk of anything that’s small that we can help grow. So if you have an event where 150, 250 people are coming, we’d love to see it be a 1,000-person event three years from now. How can we help market it to get to that point? There’s a lot of helping out smaller communities of people that need the dollars to market their area — places like Bear Lake and American Falls. They don’t have as much of an infrastructure. Anybody can go to the council and ask for funding. They take presentations in May and then award grants in August.
One of the biggest things I got out of this last year was “make yourself a destination. Be unique.” So how can we make Pocatello unique? What can we do? I’ll tell you what I want to do personally: Make the Portneuf River a frozen luge. Figure out how to freeze the whole thing and you can get in a luge and go all the way from here to Lava. Luge on down there and get out and hop in a hot tub. We need to make ourselves a winter destination.
The other thing is perception, what people think about us, and it’s kind of funny because there’s all these marketing companies out there that will take surveys and polls. People who have never been to Idaho, the words they associate it with are “boring” and “potatoes.” Those who have been here, their words are drastically different: serenity and peace and beauty and fun. Getting people out here is part of the challenge.