January 9, 2014

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Article

Utah Tourism Industry Forecasts Sunny 2014

Rachel Madison

January 9, 2014

When it comes to tourism, Utah has exactly what it takes to attract visitors. So say several of the state’s tourism industry leaders, who all felt they had banner years in 2013—despite the government shutdown and sequester—and are planning on an even more successful 2014. Nearly 20 tourism industry experts gathered together Wednesday during a Utah Business roundtable to discuss the tourism sector’s triumphs and challenges over the last year and what they expect to see in the future.

The tourism industry in Utah in 2013 netted $7.4 billion for the state. A total of $960 million of that came in the form of state and local tax revenues, according to Vicki Varela, director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said while the ski industry is “joined at the hip with Mother Nature,” it’s doing pretty well itself. The ski industry in 2013 was a $1.3 billion industry.

Keith Griffall, CEO of Western Leisure, said he noticed in 2013 that tourists were more interested in spending money. “We’ve seen a lot more interest and willingness to spend,” he said.

Mike Cameron, president of Christopherson Business Travel, said while his business mostly exports travelers to places outside the state, the amount of people traveling out of Utah is a good economic indicator as to how the state is doing. His business has doubled in size from 2009 to 2013.

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said 2013’s tourism was up about 5 percent in 2013 over 2012. In fact, October 2013 was the single best month year over year that Visit Salt Lake has seen, he said, with an increase of 27.6 percent in the tourism sector.

“The only area not [surpassing records] is the room revenue accrued during the 2002 Winter Olympics,” Beck said. However, Beck projects that will change in 2014.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said Utah is also gaining traction in the restaurant industry. Currently, Utah is the fourth fastest-growing state in terms of restaurant growth. A recent report showed that November 2013 had a 5 percent growth, which is unheard of, Sine said.

“Restaurants are becoming part of recreation and entertainment,” she said. “Small neighborhood restaurants are a real trend that is growing—places people can walk to and don’t have to get into the car to visit.”

Neil Wilkinson, marketing director for Temple Square Hospitality Corporation, said Utah has also made strides in group tourism—meaning large busses full of people from out of state, or even the country, are making stops in the area.

Griffall said while the unprecedented growth is welcome across the state, he is concerned that Utah won’t have the proper infrastructure as tourism increases. “We’ll have to worry. Do we have the infrastructure for this growth?” he said. “Are we going to get so far behind the curve that we start to have less service than [tourists] expect, and that is an issue? We want to make sure we catch up before the lack of it causes a negative impression.”

Griffall also said another area where tourism industry executives need to be mindful is when it comes to the environment. The beauty of Utah is now known by many, he said, and industry leaders need to pay attention to that.

“We need to try to find a way where we can increase industry, but in a sensitive manner,” he said. “We need to be ecologically sensitive.”

Overall, Varela sees Utah’s tourism industry continuing to grow, which links directly to the state’s unique offerings to tourists. “If Arizona and Colorado had a love child, it would be Utah,” Varela said.

The tourism roundtable discussion will appear in the March issue of Utah Business magazine.

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