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Travel & Tourism
BECK: In terms of the jobs that our industry creates, it is even more of the Rodney Dangerfield impact. People think that all we create are low-wage, hourly, entry-level positions. And I doubt many of us around this table are working for entry-level, hourly wages. A lot of us had our start early on in this business, and it is a great way to train and educate people. Somehow that is lost on a lot of the legislators. They think that economic development in this sector doesn’t return the kinds of return that it does in others, and we’ve just got to find ways to talk about that and the impact of the jobs.
WILLIAMS: When people come here, they see the great access of the airport, they experience our incredible lodging, they see what we have to do, and eventually some of them do bring their businesses here. We have a whole part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development focused on outdoor recreation manufacturing companies. They come and ski or experience outdoors at the national and state parks, and then they stay. Tourism is the introduction to that. Their first taste of Utah is usually on a trip, whether it’s coming to a convention or a leisure trip.
WHITE: We at Visit Salt Lake contract with the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research on an ongoing basis to survey the convention delegates. Those surveys over the years have found that 25 percent of the people who come for a convention intend to come back with family and friends for a vacation within the next year.
What is the possibility of a large convention center hotel being built in Salt Lake?
BECK: We have a reality in Salt Lake that we have a convention center that was built and developed over the course of the last 10 years with some very strategic reasons: the Olympics, Outdoor Retailer and other things. Now we are at a point where that building is at a level of occupancy that needs to be addressed. It’s owned and operated by the county government, and it is in the best interest of the county government to consider the ways they can increase its impact in the community, and this is one thing to consider.
When you look at Utah in terms of where we are in our competitive set, you look at destinations with airports like we have, with transportation infrastructure like we have, and the conference center infrastructure, and there’s a lot of reasons to say that our product is as good as anything else out there, and there’s reasons to say that we need product development and enhancement.
One of the things that has been very evident in terms of lost business is that we lack an integral product component that every single one of our competitive destinations have. As we look at how to maximize these public investments in the convention industry, there is a missing piece of the product that we have to address as a community. And without it, I don’t think the people that own that building, who are publicly elected officials, are doing their public duty because the public is in the convention business. The public owns the convention center, and they own it because of the economic footprint that it generates, the amount of jobs it creates, the amount of money for our community.
GRIFFALL: You have to listen to what your customers want. Our customers are meeting planners who bring fairly large conventions here. What they want is a 1,000 to 1,200-room hotel right next to the convention center. We don’t have that and it discourages a number of them from coming here.
What segments of the industry are underserved by the private sector?
GRIFFALL: We have great natural scenic beauty but we don’t have a lot of manmade attractions, and that is a big component of the leisure market. Take a city like Orlando as an example. Orlando was not much more than a bunch of orange orchards and land that you probably wouldn’t have thought too much of until one person had a vision to create Disney World. That is something we tend to lack. You want to bring a group of people here and go out for a dinner for an evening, there are plenty of venues to go to, but if you want to take 2,000 people to a fun place, we don’t have that.
ANDERSON: Especially in rural Utah, we need additional attractions, museums, events—additional oppor-tunities to separate our customer from their dollars. We desperately need that sort of development in the rural areas of the state. For example, after you finish hiking in Capital Reef National Park, what is there to do at night after your evening meal?
RAFFERTY: There is an opportunity for transportation, too. And if you are talking about an attraction, this would serve double-duty. At the ski areas, the road infrastructure has been the same forever: a two-lane road. UTA is talking about the potential for a Light Rail or some other kind of transportation into the mountains. Not only would that be a good idea to move more skiers in and out of the mountains, but it would be an attraction that is not just about skiers.