July 1, 2008

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Your Own Backyard

Skip Pricey Flights and See the Sights Near Home

Janine S. Creager

July 1, 2008

With gas prices shooting their way passed the $3.50 mark, the traditional summer vacation may seem less of a possibility than ever before. But while discretionary income is being chewed up at the gas pump, there may be an alternative. The answer? A new little trend the Utah Office of Tourism calls the “staycation”. A staycation is a vacation that is spent close to one’s home enjoying all the amenities that nearby attractions have to offer. With more than 7,300 results popping up in a Google search, more and more individuals are discovering the joys of becoming tourists in their own state, while resting comfortably in their own beds at night. “There is not a better place in the world to stay around and hang out in than Utah,” says Leigh von der Esch, in a recent roundtable discussion. As the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, von der Esch is always on the lookout to bring greater focus and attention to Utah’s recreational and cultural opportunities. “We really have a lot we can offer ourselves on a daily basis,” she adds. “We continue to see our tourism dollars go up in that 50-mile trip.” While Rolayne Fairclough, spokes-person for AAA of Utah, has not yet necessarily seen a significant decrease in travel from last year to this year, indications are that “people were taking shorter vacations and not staying so long. People are just looking within a scope of a few hundred miles. They are trying to adjust those destinations so they can afford them.” Recognizing the pinch people are feeling in their pocketbooks, experts say pushing for staycations helps tourism dollars stay right at home. With four grown children, Davis County resident Jann Hopkins and her husband Randy have found that flexibility and last minute planning is the best way to ensure that everyone can attend a family outing. And while the family has enjoyed many excursions outside of the state, a recent weeklong vacation to Zion National Park fit the family’s schedule and budget just right. “One advantage to being close by is the spontaneity factor,” says Hopkins. Beyond exploring the beauties of the park itself, the Hopkins’ also enjoy visiting art galleries, antique shops and sampling the local cuisine at area restaurants in Springdale and Rockville. Close to the Heart The state economy also reaps some of the greatest benefits from of local vacationing. “Most of Utah is poised to take advantage of the new kind of family vacations,” says Nan Anderson of the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition (UTIC). “Wasatch Front money spends just as well in Cache Valley as in California. The money, regardless where it comes from, is desired in all of Utah’s communities.” When returning from a traditional pack-in-as-much-and-travel-as-far-as-you-can vacation, many people feel they need a vacation to recover from their vacation. Hence the appeal of a staycation, says von der Esch. Even after a quick trip to one of the state’s scenic wonders or cultural events, “you feel like you’ve been away for three days,” she says. Although the advantages of taking day trips can definitely be felt in the pocketbook, the benefits are more than financial. “It’s about saving money, but also about saving time,” says von der Esch. “You can get back to basics, [and] feel and touch and have a tactile experience. It’s a health benefit. The beauty of what we have in Utah is that you educate your children, you inspire your children and get them out into the great outdoors.” From the 2007 theme of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Be a Tourist in Your Own Backyard” to an upcoming radio campaign by the Utah Office of Tourism, “Create Your Summer Vacation — Visit Utah First”, greater awareness is being given to what Utah has to offer. “When was the last time you parked your car and walked along Main Street in Park City?” asks von der Esch. “The unexpected joy of seeing a piece of knowledge comes out on a trip when exposed to it in a very relaxed setting. [Leave] the cell phones in the car and take a look,” she advises. “You don’t have to travel so far.” A State of Options Beyond the better-known state tourist spots — including renowned national and state parks, recreational areas and cultural events such as the Utah Shakespeare Festival — there are scores of destination diamonds in the rough that only locals know about. Familiar with Big Rock Candy Mountain? Great. But did you know there is also a bike path running through a nearby canyon that allows for further exploration? And then there’s Capitol Reef National Park, one of five national parks in the state. Below the towering red rock cliffs and petroglyphs are nearly 2,000 fruit trees, available on a pick-your-own basis at harvest times throughout the summer and early fall. Travelers may miss these hidden wonders while en-route to more popular destinations, but these unconventional locales can make vacationing from home all the more fun. The state has also beefed up its attractions by merging Utah’s natural beauties with spirited local festivals. “A lot of folks are revisiting Utah’s tourism products,” says UTIC’s Anderson. “Festivals throughout the state [are being] combined with beautiful scenic wonders. The addition of the events to the other product mix makes a difference. Iconic destinations achieve their status in their incredibleness. State parks have seen a lot more visibility. If anything has changed, I’ve seen a lot more local areas enhance the visitor experience by local events.” AAA’s Fairclough is especially pleased with the plethora of community and regional events taking place in more remote areas of the state, including what she terms “showcase” towns such as Torrey and Spring City. “Children don’t care how far they go [to vacation],” she says. “They don’t care if they are at Disneyland or Heber City. It’s a lovely, simple, nice experience — a great way to see the state — and it’s still getting away.
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