January 15, 2013

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Article

Utah Tourism Industry Looking Better, Planning for Future

Di Lewis

January 15, 2013

Utah’s ski industry is looking up again after last year’s lackluster snow season, and tourism overall is growing. However, the state still has work to do to better position itself for out-of-state visitors, said attendees at Utah Business magazine’s travel and tourism roundtable on Jan. 11.

Traveler spending was up to $6.8 billion for 2012, said David Williams, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, agreed that 2012 was a year of growth. He said Salt Lake saw 9 percent year-over-year growth as a destination location. Delta’s commitment to Salt Lake has also had a big impact on the state, Beck said.

Despite the lower-than-normal ski year last season, Sundance General Manager Chad Linebaugh said he saw a reason for optimism.

“In the first quarter of last year, it was basically panic mode, with the lack of snow,” he said. “We started doing our numbers in March and we were down 50 percent from last year.” However, the business Sundance got during the other three quarters more than made up for the shortfall, he said, and the recognition Utah is beginning to get as more than just a winter destination means good things for the state’s tourism industry.

“We’re realizing it’s not just about winter,” Linebaugh said. “Winter’s incredibly important and we need a strong winter, but we’re fortunate that the summer months and fall months are certainly on the rise as well.”

Beck added, “You don’t build a Grand America or a Montage for the Olympics. Neither do you build a Grand America or build a Montage for ski season. You build it because there’s a viable business opportunity here. And I think that in and of itself is often lost on us in the industry. These aren’t built for just a winter season. There are year-round opportunities for people, and business people are looking at Utah and saying, ‘I want to invest there.’”

Williams said residents sometimes take the state for granted, but Utah offers something to do from the top to the bottom of the state. “Every little corner of the state’s got something going on.”

As Utah’s population grows and as more visitors come from outside the state, Utah needs an efficient way of moving people from the urban metro centers to the mountains and around the mountains, said Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah president.

Without that, he said, “I think we’re selling ourselves short down the road. And if we think it’s a problem now, what’s it going to look like in 20 years? We already have competitors in that boat and are seeing severe repercussions from having a tough way in and out of their mountains.”

As the state positions itself for more visitors and tries to gain national and international relevance, Beck said there are still some big hurdles to people coming to Utah and some things they expect that aren’t available here.

Utah’s liquor laws are one of those hurdles, said Nan Anderson, executive director of the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition. She said in the upcoming legislative session, she expects several attempts to modify Utah’s liquor laws. The tourism industry has been working with legislators to reflect a “more positive approach toward hospitality” for those who want to have alcoholic drinks while visiting, she said.

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