2016 Travel & Tourism Roundtable
- Dirk Beal, Deer Valley Resort
- Alan Hess, Hess Travel
- Dennis Copyak, Le Bus
- David Scott, Marriott Downtown at City Creek Center
- Kathy Hirst, Morris Murdock Travel Salt Lake
- Sara Toliver, Ogden/Weber Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Bill Malone, Park City Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Jason Ford, Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel
- Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah
- Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality Corporation
- Chris Erickson, The Grand America Hotel
- Vicki Verala, Utah Office of Tourism
- Nan Groves Anderson, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition
- Joel Racker, Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Scott Beck, Visit Salt Lake
- Brian Merrill, Western River Expeditions
- Scott Lunt, Western States Lodging
- Scott George, Woodbury Corporation
By all accounts, 2015 was a banner year for Utah’s tourism industry, and 2016 may be even better. But longtime challenges like labor shortages and negative perceptions remain, and new challenges are emerging as the industry grapples with disruptive services like Airbnb and Uber.
A special thank you to Mark White, vice president of sales for Visit Salt Lake, for moderating the discussion.
How would you describe the current state of tourism in Utah?
VARELA: These are good times for tourism in Utah. The high-level number is $7.8 billion in tourism spending. That translates into $1.07 billion in state and local tax revenues. That’s money that goes to our schools, to our roads, to all of our local needs. It’s creating a great quality of life for our state.
Another indicator is what our visitors are saying. We had a wonderful accolade recently from Fodor’s, which is the bible of travel guides. They traditionally name 25 interesting places that you should think about visiting in the next year. Their editors sat down this year and said, “25? That’s an awful lot. Let’s pick one top destination in the world.” And they named Utah. Quite an accolade. Quite a testimonial to all the hard work that’s been done by the industry over many years to build that brand.
There are so many different ways that tourism is building our state’s reputation, not just as a place to visit, but a place to build your business, to get a great job. Another way it affects our quality of life is through the money that is invested into our arts and our recreation facilities—that’s all a benefit to us as residents, expanding all the opportunities we have to enjoy arts and recreation.
BECK: Salt Lake County had two new high watermarks in 2015. We set a new record for hotel revenue in the county, which surpasses the 2007 benchmark. (Meaning it took us nine years to recover from the economic downturn.) We also set new attendance records at the Salt Palace Convention Center, surpassing the Olympic year. And that was across the board. So all of the events we hosted had attendance greater than both we had forecasted and the individual groups.
Doterra, for example, blew up from a convention of 7,000 people four years ago to now nearly 19,000 people. Outdoor Retailer Summer Market hit a record with over 26,000 people here. So as we look to 2016, it’s going to be hard to meet the same attendance records, but we’re looking very favorably on what the hotel revenues will do. We may surpass hotel revenues again in 2016 based on the strength of our economy.
TOLIVER: We saw record revenues in our conference center. We saw record revenues from our hotels. We set records in our transient room tax collection and all of our tourism taxes at our hotels. 2015 was a great year and we’re looking at 2016, hoping we can match those numbers.
RACKER: It was a banner year for our convention center that we opened three and a half years ago. It returned money to the county this year. That’s unusual for a lot of convention centers. But we’re seeing more groups and diverse types of groups. There’s kind of the sweet spot that works in Utah County, but we’re being recognized as a nice third- or fourth-tier destination.
The rebuild of I-15 over the Point of the Mountain is going to help. We don’t even talk about Provo as being separate from Salt Lake International Airport. If you’ve flown into Denver, we’re just as close, if not closer. We’ve had some success with sharing a list of all the direct flights, especially when we’re competing against Boise or other areas where we can say 70 percent of your flights are going to go through Salt Lake anyway.
RAFFERTY: There is a lot going on in Utah’s ski industry this year. This year we saw investment in our ski industry like we haven’t seen since the Olympic Winter Games in 2002. Snowbird put $35 million into its resort this winter, including a huge upgrade to the Cliff Lodge, and, importantly, the new building on the summit that has been 40 years in the making. Park City put $50 million into its resort this year. That is the single largest single season upgrade in the history of American skiing, and it created the largest ski area in America, which is pretty cool for us to have that moniker.
We have 14 resorts, and over half of them have changed hands in the last five years. That’s not because people are ditching them, it’s because people are grabbing them. They want to be here in Utah. Everybody’s got their eyes on us.
Nationwide, the ski industry is fairly flat. The industry is so tough to take a really good look at because we’re so dependent on the snow. Our national skier association divides the nation up into six different regions. All six had below average, and some really below average, snowfall last year. So we ride this roller coaster of Mother Nature. But in general, it’s flat.
BEAL: Although we need to garner the vast majority of our revenue in the winter, our seasons are really spreading out. The non-ski season is how I would describe it, and it has really increased faster than the winter season. The bookends of the group business component on our opportunity seasons in spring and fall, combined with the biggest increases in the summer, and just having larger increases for leisure guests coming in the summer and group visitors in the spring and fall. So while our core will always be the winter, the opportunities might come out of non-winter.
MALONE: We had a strong summer this year. Interestingly, we had a really strong September and October, and it’s business travel. We’ve really bounced back from the period of time when we were told not to go to places like Park City on a business trip. It’s become a stronger and stronger part of our early summer and late summer offerings. The core of the summer is still leisure. But in those shoulder seasons it’s been strong.
We’re seeing a little bit of a problem in the international business. I think a lot of that is just temporary in terms of exchange rates and things like that. With Vail Resorts operating Park City now, they have a strong international clientele, so we’ll rebound and see benefit from that. But that’s the only kind of gray area we’re seeing in terms of this winter. We’re seeing really strong reservations on the books moving forward for the rest of the season.
CROOKER: We are putting a lot of money into the resort. That’s very common in the resort industry these days. If you don’t stay on par and you don’t create something new and exciting, you’re going to fall behind. Which is why a lot of that capital investment is happening today. And we’re seeing success with it. We’re starting this season with a lot of buzz. Mother Nature helped quite a bit, which doesn’t hurt.
MERRILL: As an outfitter, the last few years have treated us really well. We’re seeing a definite trend back up from when the market fell in 2008. Our industry weathered that better than most. But we noticed a switch to shorter, more affordable trips, as well as more last-minute bookings. But that has trended back in the other direction. We’re seeing numbers now that are similar to what we call the “glory days” of the late ‘90s in terms of advanced bookings. Our bookings at this point in the year are as good as they’ve ever been.
We’re dependent on the weather, too. In Moab, we now have a 10-month season. A lot of river rafters have diversified into other activities, just trying to take advantage of those shoulder seasons as well. The net result is that we provide a lot more jobs that are either year round or close to year round—so a lot of our long-time, loyal employees, now we can keep them on almost year round.
Nationally, it’s a mixed bag. Our industry, like the skiing industry, is a little flat. It has matured. So we find ourselves battling for our piece of the pie that’s fairly static in terms of its size. But Utah is doing better than most. We are benefiting from the popularity of Utah as a destination. All the credit goes to our Utah Office of Tourism, the Utah Tourism Industry Association. We have markedly talented people who were finally given the resources to really promote what we’ve always had. And we’re seeing great results. Grand County in particular has benefitted greatly from that.
LUNT: We’re getting ready to break ground on a five-star resort in Moab. I was there the second week in November. I expected it to be dead. We went to dinner on a Saturday night and it was packed. You walk down the street and it’s become a very international little city. I was shocked. But because of that, we’re putting a hotel down there.
How successful has the Tourism Performance Marketing Fund been? Are we becoming too successful? By creating lines waiting to get into Arches and Zion National Park, are we approaching a point where there may be too much of a good thing at certain times of the year?
ANDERSON: It’s such a fabulous problem to have. Those of you around this table that were here 10 years ago, this is what we’ve all worked for. In 2005, the industry worked together to draft and then successfully pass the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund. That fund to date has invested over $118 million to help market all of your products. We’re now finally reaping the benefits of that very focused strategy.
Is it without its challenges? Absolutely not. Talk to folks from Zion or Grand County with Arches and Canyonlands. Now that we’ve got the marketing piece in place, let’s start focusing on helping the infrastructure reach up to the demand.
WHITE: Do we have a problem if we have too many buses lined up waiting to get into the parks, and groups perhaps go away unhappy or having to reschedule their routes?
COPYAK: Well, for every bus you see, that probably takes 20, 30 cars out of that line. And we just keep adding buses. Le Bus is now the 16th largest private charter bus company in the country. We’ve added over $5 million in buses and infrastructure trying to do our part to keep up with the demand. And what we see coming on the horizon is bigger and better.
We are seeing a trend in smaller group travel—smaller groups being anywhere from 18 to 31. So you’ll see a lot of little mini coaches, we call them, operating throughout the area. And we’ve also invested in a lot of that type of equipment. So we’re up for the challenge and ready to add more.
RACKER: One of the benefits, if you’re looking at the silver lining, is when the national parks shut down a couple of years ago, they had to push visitors off to state parks. We’ve got so much more in this state, and there’s opportunities now to have people explore other areas that may be less traveled. The Utah Office of Tourism’s campaign this year, the Road to Mighty, that’s an attempt to get people off the beaten track. Yes, the national parks are still an iconic part of what we offer in the state, but there’s so many other ways you can get there and things you can discover on your way.
VARELA: We definitely do have constraints at some of our national parks in peak season. But as others have said, it’s a really great problem to have. And there are so many opportunities that we’re pursuing to expand visitation. We’re spreading out the seasons of travel, helping Utah become a year-round destination. And our state parks have had growth. Not quite as significant a growth as the national parks, but the most significant growth in the history of state parks since we launched the Mighty 5 campaign. Mighty 5 is the headline that gets people’s attention, but then all of our communities benefit in really big ways with expanded tourism.
We’ve spent a lot of time in our office figuring out what we do next, once we have been discovered and now that we are one of the top destinations in the world. One of our initiatives is called “rurism,” rural tourism—helping these small communities that have enormous opportunity, but haven’t built their brand, their customer service strategy, and so forth. We’re doing deep dives in counties all around the state through this “rurism” initiative to help them become tourism destinations.
MERRILL: I compare it to our business. We always like to have new boats and more trucks and hire more people, but we can’t do it until we get busy. But when we do, that’s what we do: We hire more people. We buy more things. That’s what the state is looking at now. They need to build more infrastructure. A lot of these problems, the crowding, can be solved through improved infrastructure and creative thought in how to better move people, looking at the times of day that they’re entering Arches National Park, for example. I see it as a great opportunity.
There appears to be an ever-increasing segmentation of the traveler. Perhaps 20 years ago, a traveler was on a bus getting a very generic experience, but now the demand is for that unique, authentic experience. But beyond that, what are the big trends coming down the road?
BECK: I see a return to urban–not just in terms of where people want to live and what they want to do, but the return to the urban environment is a trend that is pervasive in every industry out there. As you look at how we can complement what is going on with the Mighty 5 and other things, there is one part of our product that continually gets overlooked; it’s never even mentioned. That urban experience has a burgeoning food culture of monumental proportions, for example. The things that are happening in this urban market, I would love to see us be able to capitalize on that trend, finding new ways to talk about our urban product juxtaposed with the red rock we have for so long talked about. We don’t have capacity issues in the urban product. We don’t have transportation issues. We don’t have issues of lodging infrastructure.
We have the 17th most dense urban area in the country. That comes with its own unique experiences and own unique opportunities. I hope we can take that trend and find ways to complement what we’re doing with the “rurism” initiatives and other things.
I was at a U.S. board meeting with the outgoing president and CEO of Colorado Travel, who thanked me—the last words he said to me, “Thank you for your Utah liquor laws. You have no recognition of how important that is to Colorado that you guys keep this perception out there that you cannot get a drink in Utah. If you ever get your act together, we’ll really be scared. Because you have a product that is almost without compare.” We need to find a way to talk about the natural, organic, authentic urban experience that is the greater Wasatch Front and find ways to begin to change those perceptions.
GEORGE: As I see new hotel brands emerging, the bar/urban experience is the centerpiece of their programming for the hotel. Marriott, the Moxy Hotel, Aloft—any of the new hotels that are designed with Millennials in mind—it really centers around activating their common space, their lobby space, so that they have a place to gather. As we’ve had dialogue about the city, as we’ve discussed convention center hotels, people are looking for that sense of place to gather to socialize. So in our industry at least, there’s a lot of pressure. We need to figure out a way to make it easier for hotel developers, restauranteurs, to be able to activate that.
WILKINSON: To coin a phrase from Brigham Young: Salt Lake is still the right place. But the urban experience is two-fold. When you’re experiencing Salt Lake, you’re also experiencing the culture and the history and everything that Salt Lake is. Temple Square this year is up in numbers that we haven’t seen in quite some time. Temple Square proper is up 20 percent. And that means the other destinations on the 35 acres of Temple Square, they all rise, too. We saw that in food service and at the Family History Library. So as we look at the urban experience, these people are going around experiencing the whole Mormon urban experience.
But what is Salt Lake is what makes Salt Lake. We need to remember that. And Salt Lake is the hub of what’s happening in Utah. They’re still flying into Salt Lake and going to the national parks, they’re flying into Salt Lake and going to Yellowstone, but they want to experience Salt Lake. And it’s a great blessing to us that they are. That’s part of the success of Utah.
VARELA: This urban theme, combined with our international visitation, is a really important trend for us to take advantage of. Because we know our international visitors come in either through Vegas or through Salt Lake and we need to capture their attention and keep them here. Our office has several initiatives in place to try to do that.
The Chinese tourist flies into Salt Lake International and they do the Yellowstone loop. Before they start their Yellowstone loop, they need to spend a day or two in Salt Lake. And then they need to get to Yellowstone through Utah. They need to go to Box Elder, Bear Lake, and so forth. So we’re really excited about expanding that understanding of all our urban offerings. We’ve done a fair amount of public relations related to Salt Lake as a foodie destination. That’s starting to get really good traction.
The hotels make up the majority of a visitor spend. How is Utah doing in terms of occupancy rates and average daily rates? How does Utah compare nationwide—are we lagging behind in occupancy and revenue growth or are we leading it?
GEORGE: The United States has seen one of the best hotel years we’ve ever seen. There are pockets in Utah that are clearly strong, but we continue to be faced with a rate challenge here in Utah. I don’t think we grow rate as aggressively as some of the neighboring states, including Colorado, where they have a much higher average daily rate than we do. We’ve clearly identified those days of the week that we’re at capacity. We cannot grow anything other than rate on those days of the week. As many of you have mentioned, we’re really looking at those shoulder periods, whether it’s finding visitors that can come early or stay a day later, or finding that off season.
SCOTT: Our opportunity for future growth will come from finding ways to address the seasonality and find shoulder date opportunities to create events, festivals, cultural activities, etc., that will fill the downtown core and create, again, that urban experience that a lot of people are looking for, and help to address perhaps the perception of our liquor laws. I’ve lived in Northern California for the last number of years, having recently come back, and it’s just as easy to get a cocktail or a glass of wine here as it is in Sonoma County. So we need to deal with the perception rather than the reality of our marketplace here.
BECK: If you look at our market compared to the nine competitive markets we follow—the Phoenix area, Seattle, Portland, Denver—we have one real unique opportunity; and that is, while we have phenomenal occupancy on Tuesday and Wednesday night, we do not, vis-à-vis our competition, have that same thing on Friday, Saturday and especially Sunday nights. Our opportunity, as an urban market, from Wednesday to Sunday is unmatched. We have an opportunity that none of our competitive markets have because we do not have a leisure component in our urban market outside of a winter experience.
While we are fairly competitive in occupancy, we are not competitive in rate. So we have an opportunity to grow rate. And it’s hard to grow on Tuesday and Wednesday night when you’re at 94 percent occupancy. You could grow rate, but that’s going to be incremental compared to occupancy. So this idea of how we can create more demand for a Sunday night arrival, a Saturday night stay over, an extension of a Thursday and Friday night, that is where we have an unmatched opportunity in the urban market.
As we look at the development of the convention center hotel, it’s singular in focus—it is to increase the occupancy and the impact of the Salt Palace Convention Center. Plain and simple. And we have gone through three years now of work. The last session passed some refinements to the public funding mechanism of the hotel. We have created identical incentives that a company like Adobe received, where once they make an initial investment, after performance they get a portion of the sales tax that they generate. Just like Adobe does when they have a $98 million incentive over 30 years based on payroll taxes, this hotel, should we reach finalized negotiations with the developer, will receive a portion of the transient room tax it generates pretty much after month 14 of operation. So it’s a private investment of $350 million, then has a period of time where they can be remitted $75 million over 28 years from hotel-generated sales tax.
We had gone through the RFP process and selected Omni. Those negotiations broke down. The RFP was reopened, and once we have a developer chosen we will then begin another period of negotiations in hopes of securing that developer. This time, the county included two parcels of land that were not in the original RFP. And those are lands that are owned by the county and are directly adjacent to the site of the convention center, which makes it more appealing to private investment.
COPYAK: Another trend is starting to emerge through the cracks that nobody could ever have imagined: student travel. China, for example, has given out a directive to mainland Chinese tour operators that $100,000 per student will be issued to a tour operator if they can bring students here, house them. We’ve been approached by three different Chinese companies now. This is just brand new. They’re going to bring in 1,500 students that need to be taken to a bowling alley on Saturday, taken skiing on other days, while they’re studying here in Utah. This student travel could be huge for everyone in this room.
VARELA: The Chinese visitation numbers in the last year were amazing. We do a visa view analysis every year of our international spend, and historically it’s always been Canada first, followed by the UK, Germany, France. And last year China bumped ahead of all of those to second. So Canada, and then China is second in international spending for the first time in history.
BECK: We are doing so good right now that it’s easy sometimes to not want to push the envelope to be great. Our liquor laws are not just a perception. They are an issue. You cannot get a mimosa at brunch. You have to have a unique license at Ruth’s Chris to serve alcohol without intent to dine. You have a hotel ballroom that you can’t take a drink up to your guest room. We have some issues that are monumentally full frontal attacks on hospitality in our state. We need to address them. We need to recognize that the responsible consumption of alcohol is not a moral sin. And we need to change those so we can be great, so we can improve things in a way that is in keeping with our authentic, organic, “who we are” as a community.
Recognize that when visitors come, the hospitality element is important. To have a Hyatt Place lobby restaurant that in Denver I can order my Coors Light and not have to order a $13 plate of nachos is a problem. Because that guest doesn’t distinguish between Hyatt Place in Salt Lake and Hyatt Place in Denver. All they talk about is, gosh, in Salt Lake I had to pay $13 for a beer, in Denver I had to pay $4 for a beer. So as we look at going good to great, this is our opportunity to take some of these less hospitable issues that we know we deal with and work with people who can recognize that we have the opportunity to became great beyond our wildest imaginations.
FORD: When we were talking to our ownership group and they were asking us what is the biggest hurdle that we face for attracting groups to come to stay at our hotel, the first literally is that perception that you can’t get a drink in Utah. The second one is that Salt Lake City shuts down on Sunday, that there’s nothing to do. If they come in early to go skiing, if it’s closed what are they going to do? What’s the incentive for me to want to come in early? And the third thing we talked about with the ownership group was just not feeling like there’s a master plan for how Salt Lake is going to move forward.
Where do I go at night? Where do I go for dinner? There’s not a cool street to go to yet. If someone comes up and asks that question, we say, “What kind of food are you looking for? Because I’ll send you specifically here.” There’s not a cool place to go just walk the streets. We need to say, “Let’s create this little pocket over here that’s known for this. And let’s create this pocket over here that’s just known for that.” If we don’t do that, the private sector will beat us to it. They’re quicker. They get their money quicker. They drop plans quicker than we do. We’ve got to put that together and know what Salt Lake City will look like 10 years from now. What will it look like 20 years from now? What will it look like without losing what Salt Lake is all about? It’s having that master plan.
Let’s talk about some of the disrupters like Airbnb and Lyft. What is that doing to us? What is that doing for us?
LUNT: I sit on the board of the American Hotel Lodging Association. The Airbnb thing is a big issue. We don’t have a problem with the concept, but they need to follow the same rules the lodging industry is following. And right now they’re not.
A lot of them aren’t paying the transient room taxes. Most cities aren’t capturing that right now. A lot of them don’t have to abide by ADA rules. Any kind of local ordinances that a hotel or a lodging facility has to abide by, they don’t have to abide by it. So it’s a little bit crazy right now. There’s legislation hopefully coming forward that’s going to fix some of that. In San Francisco there was an issue that the lodging association there was fighting. They lost. Airbnb won. But nationally there’s a lot of support to bring it in line with the industry.
TOLIVER: We have to recognize the fact that it’s an inevitable part of our product mix anymore—for our customers and our visitors to have the experience they’re after, we have to have this whole range of opportunities. So how do we work with these organizations to make sure they are complying with regulations?
LUNT: We don’t want to shut them down. We just want to make sure they’re complying and that you’re getting the taxes, so we are all funded.
RACKER: Recently I searched Airbnb for Provo, and on any given night there’s 220 offerings. In Provo. That’s a good sized little property for us down there, and if they’re not capturing those things that you’re talking about, that’s a missed opportunity.
BECK: I think it’s hard to talk about them as “disrupters.” It’s a term that is fun to talk about, but I caution us to not be the encyclopedia industry of the forgotten era, when they were talking about making sure that this thing, Google, follows our rules—but technology changes stuff. Trying to place a round peg into a square hole is where we’re falling down.
The thought leaders are looking at these technology tools as the democratization of travel, allowing more people to travel. And the more people that travel, the better. How we find ways to use the new economy? I don’t say, “level the playing field.” That’s going to be really difficult because the playing field of a hotel room is very different than someone’s bedroom in San Francisco. It’s not apples and oranges, it’s apples and beef. Trying to level the playing field is where we can become the encyclopedia industry. When we can say how to make it safer for the guests, how to make them recognize they are part of an ecosystem that does live off of taxes—that’s roads, safety, security, it’s all that stuff. As we look at that ecosystem they live in, how can we find ways to do that? There’s a lot of smart people out there, and they haven’t figured it out yet either.
But there’s always been the ability to rent someone’s house or rent someone’s room. Technology just makes it a heck of a lot easier. So it’s more prolific. There’s more of it. But this is not something new. It just means the problem has gotten bigger. But, really, it’s facilitating a new way of completing a process that’s been ongoing for a long time.
It was really difficult to go through the battles with the Salt Lake City Airport and Salt Lake City when they were trying to over-regulate Uber and not allow it into our market, when we want to be that place where the Adobe professional in San Francisco gets off that plane and has the same exact experience. Because it does put you in good company. So I, for one, am very optimistic about what this is going to do. So 2015 was an all-time record for hotel revenue; it was also an all-time record for Airbnb and HomeAway and VRBO. It’s not a scarcity mentality. It’s not that there’s not enough to go around. But having them participate in the ecosystem in the appropriate way—we’ve got to figure that out to make it a healthy ecosystem.
VARELA: Our office organized a communication between the senior leadership at the State Tax Commission and the senior leadership at Airbnb a couple of months ago. We are very optimistic that within a matter of months Airbnb will be a full taxpayer for all of its properties here in Utah. We’re pleased at the leadership the Airbnb senior team has shown to say, “We want to be contributing to the tax coffers and we’ll go through your process.” Fortunately, the State Tax Commission also has a really slick system to make it fairly easy for them. We’re not quite there, but we’re within a matter of months.
Not all tourism is in-bound tourism. Outbound tourism is also an important part of our local industry. Is there growth in that segment of the industry?
HIRST: Our business at Morris Murdock has expanded quite a bit to include a lot of out-of-state clientele. So we are seeing people now wanting to book ski vacations from the East and West Coasts. We know our state so well that it’s fun for us to say, “Hey, guess what? I’m an expert in Utah because I’m here.”
Adventure travel is becoming so big we see a new vender open up three or four times a year. That’s a huge, growing trend. And Utah can really capitalize on that. There’s nowhere you go where you don’t see the kids with their GoPro and they’re filming everything they do and putting it on YouTube and social media. That’s huge.
HESS: Our client base is nationwide. Surprisingly, a large number of our customers do travel into Salt Lake and Utah. One of the great assets we have here is a really great airport. There are very few urban areas that have an airport which is in town. The new construction and the new rebuilt airport, I hope, will be as convenient.
In terms of the perception of Utah, I still think there are a lot of people, especially in the eastern part of the United States, who aren’t quite sure where Utah is. I was in Europe a couple months ago and Europeans aren’t sure they know where Utah is. Even mentioning the Olympics still draws a blank. But if you say the word Utah Jazz, universally, people know. So there’s recognition growth that we’re seeing around the world and around the nation. And we have a great product here. This is a wonderful place, facilitated by a great airport.
What do you seen on the horizon for this year? What will we be talking about next year?
VARELA: Tourism revenues will continue to grow. In fact, Governor Herbert has challenged us to generate $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenues by 2020. And we are on target.
RAFFERTY: Just a quick one to keep your eye on, at least in the ski industry: connectivity and transportation. We saw Canyons and Park City connect. And that was one of the three connections needed for the One Wasatch concept. Working with Mountain Accord and the ski resorts, all eyes are on some kind of connectivity and certainly transportation upgrades.
MALONE: One challenge we’re facing is severe labor issues. Those are going to need to be solved through major investments in employee housing and workforce housing in communities like Park City. That’s the one thing that is the throttle on our ability to grow; if we don’t have enough labor in order to serve our guests to the level we expect to, it’s going to artificially hold our growth down.
CROOKER: Our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country. When you have options, people can play the game and move around. There’s lots of opportunity for them. One of the biggest challenges in our industry in general is being competitive as far as salary and benefits and all that, but then getting people to work at your location, stay committed when there’s so many other options.
COPYAK: I’m not surprised to hear all of those comments because we’re expecting a real war in travel—keeping high-quality tour bus operators, drivers, maintenance people with the expansion of all these little companies coming in just for summer work and offering twice the wages that we’re able to pay year round. We have to keep up with that. So it’s a real battleground.
GEORGE: Now that we’ve reached that number one spot and everyone has identified Utah as being a destination, we need to look at some of the other critical issues. Air quality being one of them. We can’t leave this table without acknowledging we need to put pressure on improving the air quality. Because the last thing we want is people having their first visit be during an excessive smog period and have them leaving just with that negative impression around Salt Lake City. So we need to be progressive on that as well.