Under the domed rotunda of the Utah Capitol, tourism industry leaders rubbed shoulders with state legislators, making the case for the economic impact of tourism dollars and a need for increased funding. Stretching from Moab to Logan, tourism associations and businesses were shaking hands, starting a dialogue with the elected officials who will decide whether or not to increase tax dollar allocations to the Utah Office of Tourism.
"They get tired of seeing same lobbyists, the same people," said Hans Fuegi, a local restaurateur and member of the Park City Office of Tourism Board. "Legislators want to see support from people in the industry. In Park City, tourism is our bread and butter, and it is important we show that we care, that we are here."
The Utah Tourism Industry Coalition and the board members from the Utah Office of Tourism are hoping to see an additional increase, from the current $9 million allotted last year to $12 million, the second consecutive increase for the Utah Office of Tourism. Gov. Gary Herbert released an economic report earlier in the year supporting an increase to the office, though it was set at $11 million, Fuegi said.
In 2010, the Utah Office of Tourism took a significant hit in tax payer support, with legislators cutting spending to the office from $11 million to $7 million. Since then, the industry has been making a case to get back to where funding was, allowing for more marketing and broader campaign efforts to support Utah.
"That is why we are here," he added, "to talk to legislators and see what we can get. Things have eased up for state, and there are not as many urgent demands in the budget. When we were in recession, it was a crunch, a time where there were a lot of demands. I think the demand will always be there, just not as severe as before.
"When you look at tourism spending, you get your money back. For every dollar that is spent, there is far more coming back to the state Seeing this kind of showing at the capitol, the people from the industry showing up, it is impressive."
According to statistics provided by the Utah Office of Tourism, more than 22 million domestic and international visitors made their way to Utah in 2012, accounting for $890 million in state and local tax revenue over that period. As one of the largest state industries, tourism accounted for more than 3.8 million skiers hit Utah slopes, and overall traveler spending topped $6.9 billion.
"We are here to advocate for the overall tourism budget for Utah," said Deer Valley Director of Mountain Operations Dirk Beal. "We are hoping for the full $12 million. At Deer Valley alone, we are talking about 2,700 employees, and we are here advocating for those jobs."
Legislators agree that for every dollar spent, the state makes back the money several times over, justifying a continuing increase to the budget.
"I certainly hope there is an increase," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal). " I think there is a desire is to see an increase to the budget. As it continues to grow, we have got to feed that furnace. In some areas like Park City, it is more of the economy, even most of what happens in the area."
Rep. Marie Poulson (D-Cottonwood Heights) agreed.
"Tourism brings so much money to our state, it really does," she said. "We have people who come to visit, even move here because of our beautiful national parks and ski resorts. I think it's a positive influence on our economy."
Last year, the Legislature agreed to increase funding to the Utah State Office of Tourism to $9 million, with an on-track effort to continue supporting the department. Tourism associations such as the Park City Chamber/Bureau benefit through the funding, applying for cooperative marketing grants provided by the state. Those grants allow communities to supplement individual marketing efforts. In Park City, the Chamber was awarded the full amount to promote local tourism this year totaling $250,000, and was able to expand advertising efforts to new markets such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as its first nationwide network campaign.
"When you see what the Utah Office of Tourism does with funding, we see a lot of success in those market, including ours," said Stephen Lane, the Tourism Marketing Manager at the Chamber/Bureau. " We apply for grants every year, and we can see with our programs the kind of impact those dollars have. I can find out where people are coming from, how many, what times of the year."
"This funding has a big impact," he added.
Tourism Marketing Performance Fund:
*The Utah Office of Tourism