March 1, 2012

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Did you go Skiing this winter?

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Did you go Skiing this winter?

Editor's Note

Sarah Ryther Francom

March 1, 2012

Utah’s travel and tourism industry has long played a leading role in Utah’s economy, much thanks to the state’s diverse landscape—if you’re into the outdoors, Utah’s got it. And though the state’s liquor laws and other quirks have swayed some people from traveling to the Beehive State, local travel and tourism leaders have worked to brand Utah as a top tourist destination. Today, tourism is a $6.2 billion industry.

In this issue of Utah Business, we hear from a collection of the state’s travel and tourism leaders who discuss the industry’s issues, trends and successes. You can read a transcript of their discussion beginning on page 97.

One of the top concerns presented during the discussion likely comes as no surprise to you—this year’s unseasonably warm winter. Chad Linebaugh, general manager of Sundance Resort, began the discussion by pointing out the unusual snowfall levels. “Last year in December at Sundance we got 140 inches of snow. Our average is 80 inches. This December we had five inches,” Linebaugh said. Ouch.

After the roundtable, I spoke with Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, about what this unusual winter season means for Utah’s tourism industry.

“Unfortunately, we are at the whim of Mother Nature,” he said, but pointed out that Utah’s resorts have diligently prepared for dry winters. “Things have changed over the past few decades because snowmaking has made things remarkably better,” Rafferty said. “Park City would not have had one ski lift open through Christmas without the snowmaking ability it has. There’s been millions invested into snowmaking and it really creates a nice product.”

According to Rafferty, non-locals have flocked to Utah in numbers comparable to previous years, despite the low snowfall. “Nearly all [resorts] came close to making as much money this year as the previous Christmas, which is amazing,” he said.

What is hurting the resorts and their affiliated businesses and communities is the lack of locals hitting the slopes. “We’re just plain spoiled rotten—if there isn’t fresh snow, we’re not motivated to ski,” said Rafferty. “If [Utahns] aren’t shoveling their walks, they’re not skiing. A local who would say that this is the worst season ever is actually missing great powder. Yes, it’s lower than average but it’s great skiing.”

Another potential concern for Rafferty is next year’s bookings. Many out-of-state travelers select their winter vacation destination based on the previous year’s snowfall. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see people holding off and not booking,” Rafferty said. The good news: “This probably won’t affect just Utah, but be an industry-wide phenomenon because all the big guys in the industry were hurt this year. And people who take ski vacations are enthusiasts—they get that there are good winters and bad winters.”

Still, Rafferty said that the industry is prepared to market heavily next fall to ensure the 2012/13 season is strong.

Skiing and other winter sports are more than a passion for many locals and non-locals—the industry is vital to Utah’s overall economy. “This industry supports 20,000 jobs. It’s a big deal and a big business for our state,” Rafferty said. “People come here to ski and we don’t have to educate their kids, we don’t have to pave the roads for them—and they leave their dollars here. Skiing is more than a passion—it does a lot of good for our state.”

Time to hit the slopes.


From the Editor

Sarah Ryther Francom

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