New Salt Lake City International Airport Will Make Big Impact, Say Experts

Salt Lake City—There’s a lot for tourists to be excited about in Utah: the Mighty 5, the 43 state parks, the world-class skiing. And while the state has lost the lucrative Outdoor Retailer convention, there’s a chance Utah might look to host the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics, or an NBA All-Star Game in 2022 or 2023. But another thing to be excited about? The new Salt Lake City International Airport, slated for completion in 2024.

The airport is the first thing people see in Utah and the last thing they see when they leave, said Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah. He spoke as part of the annual Utah Business Travel and Tourism Roundtable, where nearly 20 travel and tourism professionals met to talk about the state of the industry Tuesday morning at Holland and Hart’s downtown Salt Lake offices.

“We’ve got this incredible airport that’s coming online that I think people aren’t talking about enough,” said Rafferty. “It’s going to have all the convenience and all the wow [factor] that we need. Our [current] little airport is awesome; it’s pretty convenient, but… it’s nothing incredible, and that’s going to change dramatically in the next couple of years.”

One thing many people don’t realize, said Nancy Volmer, director of PR and marketing at the Salt Lake International Airport, is that this is not a redesign, a renovation, or an expansion—it’s an entirely new airport that’s being built atop the old one. The $3 billion project (which is funded through the airport’s revenues and help from airlines like Delta, not taxpayer dollars) means twice as many parking spaces, new concourses, more windows and natural light, beautiful art instillations, a sage and copper color scheme (to match Utah’s natural beauty, said Volmer) and many other amenities.

“Even if those passengers are just connecting, we want to make sure that they remember the Salt Lake Airport,” said Volmer. “It’s going to be something the community can be very proud of.”

Another uniquely-Utah amenities that patrons can look forward to is a meeting area for military families or families greeting return missionaries. Currently, those families huddle around the bottom of the arrivals escalator—soon, they will have a spacious room with a fireplace and ample seating. And since this is the first complete post-9/11 airport in the country, said Vicki Varela, director of the Utah Office of Tourism, patrons can look forward to a well-thought-out security area.

“You think about the way we’re all tortured through these bizarre lines that they’ve had to create for security at airports all over the country—Utah’s will be thought through carefully from the ground up so that the whole experience will be efficient and elegant,” she said.

All of these details are important for every sector of the tourism industry because the “common denominator that binds [them] all together” is the airport, said Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Business Travel. Whether it’s business development meetings, visiting skiers, international tourists, visiting Ogden or Salt Lake or Park City—almost everyone goes through that same airport. It’s a critical piece to the perception puzzle that Utah is continually working through. For connecting passengers, said Scott Lunt, regional director of Western States Lodging, a beautiful airport could create curiosity in their minds.

“The impression for those who are flying through here, to go through such a beautiful facility, I think they’re going to say: ‘Maybe we should come back here,'” said Lunt.

The roundtable was moderated by David Williams, associate managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. Read the complete discussion in the April issue of Utah Business.