Exporting Adventures: Tourism is a top Utah export and growing
This summer if you are fortunate to walk the red-rock trail to the Delicate Arch, you will likely be taken aback by two things: the beauty of your surroundings and the number of different languages spoken by fellow visitors. Arches National Park receives thousands of international visitors each year, and it is not alone.
International tourists pour into Utah to visit Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks, ski at world-renowned resorts or experience Salt Lake City’s unique sites and culture. Though it may surprise you at first, tourism is in fact one of the state’s largest exports.
A boost to the Beehive State
Tourism is classified as an export because people from outside of the state are spending money on Utah goods and services during their visit. Utah welcomed more than 793,000 international visitors in 2015 that spent an estimated $769.7 million during their stays. The economic impact of international tourists is significant because they tend to stay longer and spend more money than domestic visitors.
According to a report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, tourism is also an important driver of job creation. Travel and tourism generated an estimated 142,500 direct, indirect and induced jobs in 2015. To put that into context, that means about 10 percent of Utah jobs are impacted or supported by the tourism industry.
The World Trade Center Utah team has witnessed firsthand the positive impact tourism has on rural communities. Countless stories were shared with the rural outreach team during company site visits of international tourists not only buying merchandise in stores, but also making additional purchases online after returning to their home countries.
The top countries Utah receives international visitors from are Canada, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia. Interestingly, though not unexpectedly, the Chinese tourist market is growing significantly. In 2013 China was 11th among international visitors to Utah—and they now rank second. The travel preferences of Chinese tourists are also changing; they are opting to plan independent trips rather than book through a tour or travel agency.
So why do international visitors come to Utah? Easy, it is because Utah has 14 ski resorts, five national parks, seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, one national historic site and 43 state parks. Utah was endowed with natural features that make it a must-see for outdoor enthusiasts.
In addition to its natural assets, Utah has become a hub for people both young and old to enjoy great food and community events. The Sundance Film Festival in Park City is a great example of Utah receiving international visitors and international attention. The festival attracts more than 1,800 international visitors, including press from 22 different countries. The festival’s tourism benefits extend beyond the January event. More than half of the out-of-state attendees surveyed in 2016 indicated they would visit Utah again in the next year.
The good news for international visitors looking to come to Utah is the state is now more accessible than ever before. Direct flights are available to Salt Lake City from Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Cancún. This ease of access will increase the attractiveness of Utah as a tourism destination for years to come.
Spreading the Utah message
The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics brought a significant amount of international attention to Utah. Since that time, the state has maintained and increased its brand. Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism (UOT), believes there are still many untapped opportunities to increase international tourism in Utah:
“We know there is tremendous potential in the international market. We’re putting programs in place that will help us grow our share of international visitors for many years to come.”
One of these programs is to partner with other states to market regional itineraries that include Utah destinations. This will help UOT capitalize on people planning trips to Yellowstone or The Grand Canyon. The goal is to bring these visitors to Utah and encourage them to stay longer to explore the state.
Another way the Utah Office of Tourism is increasing international visitors to Utah is through award-winning ad campaigns. From taglines like “Mighty 5®,” “Greatest Snow on Earth®” and “Find Your Greatest®,” awareness of Utah and all it has to offer tourists is quickly spreading.
“Our robust international marketing strategy creates Utah moments at surprising times and places all over the world,” says Varela. “Taxi cabs in London are wrapped with Mighty Five® and Greatest Snow on Earth® branding. In Sydney Australia, we constructed a Utah climbing wall, and at events in London and Hong Kong we invited guests to experience Utah’s film culture at the Sundance Film Festival.”
Projections show international tourism is expected to grow approximately 4 percent over the next five years. This is great news for Utah’s economy, as it means more jobs and increased tax revenue. As World Trade Center Utah plans trade missions for the coming year, it will work with the Utah Office of Tourism to find ways to collaborate and ensure the Utah message is delivered worldwide.