By the fall of 2005, Grand Canyon West, a remote destination in northern Arizona owned by the Hualapai Indian Reservation, had enhanced the location to include several new attractions and features including a Native American dwellings exhibit, outdoor marketplace, old-fashioned Western town and ranch, and new food & beverage offerings, and were planning for the upcoming building and debut of The Skywalk. Tourism is the Hualapai’s main source of income, but because of Grand Canyon West’s remote location and difficult accessibility, it has been challenging to bring enough visitors to provide much-needed economic support to the tribe. The tribe needed something that was a large enough draw to bring annual visitor attendance from 200,000 to its goal of one million per year. The Skywalk, a glass bridge extending 70 feet over the edge of the Grand Canyon, was planned to increase tourism at the destination.
The marketing division of Grand Canyon West enlisted the services of Preferred Public Relations (PPR) prior to the completion of The Skywalk. Our mission was to increase awareness of the Grand Canyon West destination as a whole, as well as announce and launch The Skywalk to the public. Our strategy was to use the imminent international media interest in The Skywalk to draw attention to the entire destination and its other exciting attractions.
PPR announced the impending assembly and launch of the Skywalk in September of 2005. The Skywalk is the first-ever glass walkway to be suspended above the Grand Canyon and extended outward from the canyon rim. With the worldwide media buzz and public interest that followed, PPR promoted the uniqueness of the structure while using this as leverage for garnering press coverage and visitors to the location’s existing attractions. Additionally, we crafted story angles for each phase of The Skywalk’s construction process along the way.
First, the press and visitors were encouraged to visit Eagle Point to see the massive iron footings that had been drilled 40 feet below the rock’s surface. Next, the arrival of the steel was used as another draw. Later, the arrival of the glass pieces provided another avenue for coverage. After The Skywalk was assembled, the first event was a rollout of the structure that was attended by more than 50 media outlets from countries around the world. With each event, visitors and media were encouraged to visit and cover the destination’s additional attractions.
For the “grand” finale, PPR planned and executed a full-scale private launch event, press conference and “First Walk” to garner as much international press as possible prior to The Skywalk’s impending public opening the following week. PPR secured legendary astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin to take the historic “First Walk” on the bridge together with tribal members and John Herrington, the first Native American astronaut.
Grand Canyon West’s remote location and indirect accessibility also provided a challenge in coordinating the large-scale event and working with the media. First, the closest major city to Grand Canyon West is Las Vegas, from which guests can either travel by airplane, helicopter or car. Airplanes and helicopters are limited and expensive, so most guests and media needed to travel by car or shuttle, which poses yet another challenge. The drive is a 3-hour commute, including a 14-mile stretch of unpaved road. Additionally, there are no electricity outlets for media or catering crews at the site of The Skywalk.
Because of the media’s deadline-sensitive needs and catering staff’s cooling and heating requirements, PPR enlisted mobile electricity generators for the day of the event. This allowed featured guests and presenters to have microphone access, media to file their stories on time, and food to be catered appropriately. Additionally, PPR secured helicopter trips for select media to obtain aerial shots for their stories prior to the press conference in order to make deadlines.
Nearly 1,000 media and VIPs gathered at Grand Canyon West’s Eagle Point location to attend and cover the launch events, including crews from CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, ABC News, CBS News, the UK’s BBC, Fuji Television of Japan and The Associated Press. And within 72 hours of the launch, The Skywalk was such a huge national news story that the attraction’s launch was spoofed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, “Saturday Night Live” and in USA Today’s “The Forum” section.
Grand Canyon West is now welcoming 3,000 visitors per day compared to varied totals (never reaching any higher than 600) before the opening of The Skywalk. Employment opportunities have more than doubled for tribal members and Grand Canyon West is expanding its operations almost daily to meet the growing demand to visit the location. The Skywalk has been prominently featured in some of the country’s most recognized publications to include The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Popular Science, Travel + Leisure and People, as well as garnered media coverage and public interest in every continent across the globe.
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