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Travel & Tourism
Utah’s tourism industry is looking to capitalize on a strong summer season and continue building momentum into this year. Part of that effort is a push for renewed investments in marketing, in hotel and convention infrastructure, and in new attractions and events. The state’s tourism leaders say our product offerings are world class—but we need to find new ways to get the attention, and the pocketbooks, of international travelers.
Joel Racker, Utah Valley CVB; Chad Linebaugh, Sundance Resort; Keith Griffall, Western Leisure; Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality; Dirk Beal, Deer Valley Resort; Marty Smith, Ogden Eccles Conference Center; Brian Hollien, Morris Murdock Travel; Scott Lunt, Davis Conference Center; Michael Johnson, Utah Hotel & Lodging Association; Chris Hogle, Holland & Hart; Scott Beck, Visit Salt Lake; Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah; Barbara Riddle, Davis Area CVB; Ryan Starks, Wasatch Tourism and Economic Development; Bill Malone, Park City CVB; Sara Toliver, Ogden/Weber CVB; Nan Anderson, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition; Tracy Cayford, Utah Office of Tourism; Dave Williams, Utah Office of Tourism; Mark White, Visit Salt Lake
How would you describe the state of our industry?
ANDERSON: Cautiously optimistic. This year things are actually turning around. We are seeing higher tax revenues. We’re seeing slow but very steady growth and, again, back on that pat phrase, “cautious optimism.”
WILLIAMS: We’re hearing from our partners that they had a great summer, generally. We know numbers are up in Park City over the summer. They are up in Moab and we had a great ski season last season. So cautiously optimistic is very fair to say.
RAFFERTY: Last year was really, really good. The state and the ski industry had our second-best year ever last year, and that says a lot about tourism in an economy in which a lot of people are struggling. And nationwide, the ski industry had the best season ever on record last year.
We’re off to a slowish start this year snowwise, but actually Christmas has been really good and in some cases better than last year. Christmas is booked on last year’s snow—so those were already on the books and we’re at a pivotal time right now.
For the ski industry it’s tricky because you’ve got X amount of time to make your hay and whatever you lose on the front end, you don’t have the luxury of making it up on the back end. It just doesn’t work that way. But I think we’re still going to have a better season than you might expect.
WILKINSON: I believe the numbers at Temple Square have been up this year; at least for Temple Square Hospitality, the numbers are up. There is a great deal of interest because Salt Lake was selected by the national tour operators as the number one faith-based tourism spot in the world, which is really quite significant.
We believe that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a wonderful draw, and then you’ve got the genealogical community that really bolsters that, and Temple Square clicks through a lot of visitors. So we feel that this new, up-and-coming portion of tourism—faith-based tourism—has got some legs and is actually going to take off a little bit.
JOHNSON: In the hotel industry, there are a lot of parts of the state that had a great year in 2011 and are pacing very well for 2012 bookings. Throughout Southern Utah, around the national parks, they had a great year last year, and many of them had the best year they’ve ever had. So they are looking to build on that in 2012 by potentially increasing rates. There have not been a lot of new rooms built in those areas. So with additional bookings, they are able to move the rate up a bit, which is exactly what they’d like to do.
BECK: If you look at the number of destinations that were down year over year between 2008 and 2009, it was virtually every county that reported through the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning—I think only three counties were not down. If you look at 2009 and 2010, there were only three counties that were down. Almost every county had increases in travel.
The segment for which we have seen enormous strength in the last 11 to 14 months and the market that we think creates optimism—and not just cautious optimism—for us in Salt Lake is the corporate meetings market. The corporate travel that is going on right now has been huge in our market. We looked at 2011 as potentially being 4 to 4.5 percent up over 2010, and we just got our final numbers and we are 8.4 percent up over 2010 in transient room tax. On the strength of corporate travel, restaurant revenues in Salt Lake County are up year over year and rental car revenues are up double-digit year over year.