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“International visitation is up,” says Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film. Her office works with VisaVue Travel to track spending on the state. The latest reports show that Utah’s international visitors are led by Canadians, followed by the French, Australians and Germans. Rounding out the top 10 are those from the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland, she says.
She notes that this data is solely from Visa spending—the Office of Tourism doesn’t have access to data from other travel cards. “Our partners down at Temple Square tell us that Korean and Chinese visitors are clearly on the rise and, judging from the number of buses we are seeing at Council Hall each week, I would expect these numbers to continue to increase.”
A slightly different mix of nationalities is seen on the ski slopes, according to Bill Malone, Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau president and CEO.
“Most of our international visitation at this point comes in the winter in Park City. Our top market this last year was Australia, followed by the UK, closely followed by Brazil, Mexico and Germany,” Malone says. “For years the UK was our No.1 market, but these last couple of years Australia has really come on strong.”
The chamber measures the visitors by a joint lift ticket product for Park City Resort, Deer Valley and the Canyons that they sell to international tour operators and travel agents, he says.
Summer visitors to Park City tend to be from the Four Corners region or California, Malone says. “We really don’t see much in the way of international business in the summertime. The international guests who come to Utah in summer are very focused on the national parks.”
Utah has five national parks, as well as easy access to two others, including the Grand Canyon. While the overall number of visitors to the national parks is fairly stable, there “seems to be a slight drop in some European countries, and seems to be an increase in some Asian countries, specifically China and Korea,” says Denis Davis, Utah state coordinator for the National Park Service. “It’s something that’s been happening for some time.”
Most tourists at the national parks used to come from Western Europe, he says, “but now it appears to be China and Korea. I think in Europe the recession has had an impact, whereas China seems to have new wealth.”
Park City has worked long and hard to attract Australian skiers, Malone says. “We’ve been participating in marketing in ski and winter sports shows in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne for a number of years, and we have a representative who gets stories placed in that market. You can’t put money into a market and expect a great return in one year—you need to build trust in product in those markets.”
Von der Esch credits the increase in French visitors to the international flight from Salt Lake City to Paris and Delta’s partnership in promoting Utah in France.
Like Davis, von der Esch believes the economy of different countries has an impact on local tourism. “Brazil is rising due to their improved economy and I believe that is reflected in China and Korea—a rising, traveling middle class,” she says. “The average spend of the Chinese visitor is $6,000 per visitor per trip and Brazil is about the same. Both Chinese and Brazilians love to shop and with City Creek now being open, we have outdoor recreation, natural scenic beauty, luxury properties and shopping.”
Malone agrees. Many brand-name goods are less expensive here than in Brazil. He experienced that himself when he attended ski shows there and saw that a pair of Nike shoes cost about $200, he says. “Brazilians like the luxury accommodations here and the dining, but shopping is a piece of the equation,” he says. “It’s a plus for Park City because of our proximity to the outlet malls.”
On the other hand, Australians, whose average stay lasts about two weeks, tend to find favorite coffee shops and book stores that “help make the feel of the experience a little bit more genuine, and not so much a resort on the side of the highway,” he says.
Utah’s visibility has been increased by its top rankings in various national travel publications such as Travel and Leisure and Lonely Planet. “Of course in the ski area, Deer Valley as No. 1 for North American Resorts five years running is terrific, and Park City Mountain Resort No. 1 for families just pushes the Utah product more,” von der Esch says.