March 13, 2013

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Travel & Tourism

March 13, 2013

We are seeing, finally, some movement on our hospitality zone, trail system. We have a big park going in right now so we will have the first piece of it open in the spring. This trail system will connect all of our hospitality and amenities throughout the Layton area. So our hotels, theater, the mall, the restaurants will all be connected via this trail system. And the trail system will eventually connect up into the trail system on the East Bench. Some day you will be able to rent a bike at a hotel and ride it into the mountains on the trail system.

You mentioned Antelope Island. My family went out on there in December, on a whim. There were quite a few people out there. We ran into people from New York, Florida and California. I was amazed they even knew it was there, that they would make the effort to get out there. It’s a unique gem.

RIDDLE: It is. This year we had an opportunity to host some folks from China, the Great Wall of China Society, who were looking to establish a sister relationship with a site in the United States. They came out and visited Antelope Island, ate a buffalo burger at the Beef House, went on a hike so they saw the beautiful views from the west side, went horseback riding and on a boat ride. They got to drive the boat, and that was a big high. They fell in love with the island and that great Western experience.

Ultimately, they selected Antelope Island for a sister relationship. So we signed a U.S. version of a memorandum of understanding on Antelope Island in November, and we will be signing a Chinese version of the MOU at the Great Wall in April. So it’s pretty exciting.

There are some aspects of our destination that would not be considered tourism draws, but they reflect the authentic or genuine aspect of what this place is. When you see people from Europe or Asia stopping on the side of the road to take pictures of cows, that’s pretty remarkable to them. It’s the Great West and it’s John Wayne and it’s all those things they have seen on television. We take that for granted. So there’s a lot more here than maybe sometimes even we recognize.

WILLIAMS: That’s really the essence of “Utah: Life Elevated.” People come here for business, for conventions, as tourists, to ski—they come here for a variety of reasons, but they feel different here. Colorado, not too long ago, came out with “Come To Life, Colorado.” And Arizona has “Seek Higher Elevation.” So, I guess, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

But there’s so much going on all around the state. Joel mentioned the Frontier flights in Utah County, and Weber County has new flights with Allegiant going to Arizona. Dinosaur National Monument is finally open completely again with their visitors center, which is very nice. You go from Ogden down to St. George and everywhere in between, and everybody has a great story. They are working on a new museum in Millard County on the Topaz site for the internment camps from the war. Every little corner of the state has something going on.

And people do feel different when they come here, which makes us feel good about our brand, and we want to keep promoting it.

Everyone has talked about how good things are relative to last year. Demand is up, traffic is up. Hotel rates, nationwide, are up about 6, 7 percent. As a state, we are up about 4 percent. So although things are going up, it seems that our hotel rates are trailing behind the demand. Why is that?

RACKER: We are seeing stronger hotel rates. That’s been a challenge for Utah long-term—getting our rate up. We would like to see our hotels do much better there.

As far as transient room tax, as of November it was up 20 percent in transient room tax collections. It’s encouraging that we are seeing those kinds of numbers increase, because that’s the strength of rate as well as occupancy.

BECK: As you look across the country, and I am lucky enough to be on the U.S. Travel Board, it’s really still an occupancy-driven recovery. There’s more people travelling right now. If you look at the increased supply, but also the distribution methods—I mean, the world has changed in terms of how you book a hotel reservation. And when Nathan talked about the guy in New York sitting in his office deciding where to go, they don’t typically pay full rate. There’s usually a last-minute deal they offer. So there’s a big shift in the way travel is being purchased that definitely affects the rate.

Looking at those numbers, everyone that is growing is growing through occupancy. And a rate of 4 percent, I actually don’t think that’s bad; it’s pretty good growth right now. I would hope that with demand hopefully rising, and more people travelling, that rate will begin to come. But those of us that are hoteliers know that typically rate follows occupancy. You don’t push rate until you get the occupancy. But it’s clearly an opportunity to grow rate.

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