March 13, 2013

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Travel & Tourism

March 13, 2013

In the midst of a season with ample snow, Utah’s tourism leaders ponder the future direction of the industry, from efficient transportation to liquor laws to the imperative need to develop multi-faceted, top-notch destinations to complement the state’s world-class winter sports offerings. 


Eric Maxfield, Holland and Hart

Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah

Barbara Riddle, Davis Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Connie Marshall, Alta Ski Area

Mark H. White, Visit Salt Lake

Scott Beck, Visit Salt Lake

Nan Anderson, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition

Joel Racker, Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau

Dave Williams, Utah Office of Tourism

Chad Linebaugh, Sundance Resort

We’d like to thank Mark White, vice president of sales of Visit Salt Lake, for moderating the discussion.



How would you describe the state of the tourism industry in Utah? How are we doing relative to last year and relative to other destinations?

RAFFERTY: The ski industry is doing better than last year. Last year, snow was down 50 percent but, encouragingly, our visits were off almost exactly 10 percent. Although we don’t track the number specifically, I would say revenue would be off less than that. In Park City, they were down just less than 6 percent in visits. No big surprise there. Snow inspires visitation for skiing.

This year has been good, not great. But we have some really encouraging numbers looking forward. Christmas was good, not great. We got snow on the ground. But it’s not how much snow—a lot of times it’s when you get it. And it came a hair late for us this year to really solidify Christmas. A lot of people were a little nervous about Christmastime. Some that came last year got burned. But the ones that did come this year were sending Facebook and Instagram photos of snow up to their waistline. And it sounds like, from the resorts, that January, February, March is really pretty good. So we are encouraged that we are going to have a good season this year.

Years ago, when people couldn’t access travel and snow information quite as quickly as they can now, there would be a significant echo effect from year to year. If there was a great snow year, the following year would be positive. If there was a bad snow year, the next year it would be down. Does that hold true anymore?

RAFFERTY: It’s totally different. A stockbroker in New York can sit in his office and look at an Alta forecast alert saying what kind of snow is going to come in the next 48 hours. He can look at live webcam shots of any resort in the state and make three more clicks and book a flight. It’s just a different deal. Travel is so much closer. Especially for a state like ours, which is known for deep powder skiing, a lot of times that’s what people are looking for. So that booking window, just when we think it can’t shrink any more, it shrinks more.

That being said, we are lucky to live in a place that gets a lot of good snow. And when you compare us to some of the other options, we often end up on top.

How is the rest of our industry doing? We have a summer product, an outdoor product and a metropolitan product. How are we looking in other areas?

WILLIAMS: Statewide, overall we have done quite well. National park visitation is up 4 percent. If you look at the last two or three years, comparing our national parks to other national parks in the West, we have fared quite well. Better than most. Visitation in our welcome centers is up 6.6 percent. We are at $6.8 billion of traveler spending, versus $6.2 billion the prior year, which reflects a great combined effort of everybody throughout the state.

Scott can speak to City Creek and the great things going on in Salt Lake. But if you look down south, and the fact that we fared better than a lot of areas, given the lack of snow, overall we have done really well, and 2013 looks really bright, as well.

BECK: I think 2012 was clearly a year that saw a lot of growth. In terms of Salt Lake as a destination, we saw 9 percent growth year over year, which is on the heels of about 6 percent growth in 2011. So back to back, that’s a real strong statement for us.

Corporate travel really came back last year. For our destination, specifically the Wasatch Front, the strength of our economy really helps. The fact that our economy is doing well, that unemployment is low, that we have businesses expanding, growing, relocating—all of that really helps our visitor numbers. Really helps us show that year-over-year growth.

One of the things that we take for granted, or perhaps don’t understand the full impact of, is Delta Air Lines. The size of our airport on our market is immense. Look at what Reno offers in terms of competitive convention space, competitive hotel product, but you really can’t get there. The flights into Reno are really difficult and it really impacts their ability to grow as a destination. So we have benefitted from Delta’s strong commitment here, and we have benefitted from Southwest’s growth.

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