Travel & Tourism

Discussion moderated by Mark White, vice president of sales and marketing at Visit Salt Lake.

March 12, 2014

From the closure of national parks to this year’s dire snowfall amounts, Utah’s travel and tourism industry has faced its share of recent struggles. But industry insiders aren’t fazed by the trouble. From the state’s top-notch resorts and destinations to world-class sports venues to scenery you won’t find anywhere else, Utah’s tourism industry has much to look forward to.


Back Row: Matt Wirthlin, Holland & Hart; Brent Jenson, Morris Murdock Travel; Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality;

Bill Malone, Park City Chamber; Keith Griffall, Western Leisure; Mike Austin, Lewis Stages; Scott Lunt, Davis Conference Center

Front Row: Des Barker, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition; Nan Anderson, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition; Joel Racker, Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau; Connie Marshall, Alta Ski Area; Alan Hess, Hess Corporate Travel; Mike Cameron, Christopherson Business Travel; Steve Issowits, Deer Valley Resort; Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah

Seated: Ryan Starks, Heber Valley Tourism; Vicki Varela, Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding; Mark White, Visit Salt Lake; Melva Sine, Utah Restaurant Association; Sara Toliver, Ogden/Weber Convention & Visitors Bureau

Not Pictured: Scott Beck, Visit Salt Lake

How is our industry doing?

VARELA: Our industry is doing really well. If Utah tourism were a stock, it would be a value investment because all the fundamentals are in place and we are being discovered. Both our winter and our summer assets are just unparalleled anywhere in the country. Somebody said to me recently, “If Arizona and Colorado had a love child, it would be Utah.”

We are absolutely the best of the Rocky Mountains and the Desert Southwest. All the numbers support this, in that our growth is at about 5 percent per year, and all the trends look good as we have the marketing money to go into more national and international markets.

Last year tourists spent $7.4 billion in Utah, and it yielded $960 million in state and local tax revenues. It’s a very optimistic scenario for people in the industry.

ANDERSON: We are finally starting to reap the benefits of a well-orchestrated, strategically conducted marketing campaign to show Utah’s assets to the world. We couldn’t be happier.

GRIFFALL: In the leisure travel industry, it looked like it was a banner year for most tour operators that I know. Due to the confluence of the marketing and the fact that there seems to be a pretty solid economic recovery from the consumer standpoint, we saw a lot more interest, a lot more willingness to spend. Certainly the load factor, the number of people on each tour, was well up this year, and the amount of money that people wanted to spend seemed to be up substantially. I see no reason for this to be different in 2014.

RACKER: That $1 billion in tax revenue is paying for essential services in the state—those dollars are helping pay for education and all of the things that there’s never enough money for. We’re really being seen as an economic driver within the state, the same as mining and some of the other large industries that typically we have not been associated with.

VARELA: I thought the governor summarized it very well. He said tourism is one of the only places that you can invest money and make a huge return. So he’s betting on tourism as a way to shore up our educational funding, our road funding. It’s increasingly understood by the larger business community as a key part of our economic future.

RACKER: Even on the local level, we are very fortunate. We’re a smaller budget bureau, but for 2014 our county commission increased our budget by about 20 percent. They’re seeing the same economic benefit of that investment, even on a local basis.

Nathan, how is the ski industry doing?

RAFFERTY: We’re joined at the hip with Mother Nature. We had a good year last year. Two years ago we had a really rough snow year. Nationwide there was reduced snow in every corner of the country. So we saw a nice rebound on that. We’ve got a long season left to go and could use a little help from Mother Nature.

The pace of infrastructure improvements and the general vibe for the ski industry is really, really good. It’s a $1.3 billion industry for our state and a significant part of that tourism chunk.

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