Every year, the tourism industry in Utah must defend the state funds it receives. And every year, the Utah State Legislature must decide how much funding to allot the Utah Office of Tourism, which uses the funds for the Tourism Cooperative Marketing Fund to distribute to tourism organizations and associations across the state.
And this year will be no different, with the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition (UTIC) preparing for the upcoming legislative session.
"We are a trade association for the tourism industry in Utah," said Nan Groves Anderson, the UTIC Executive Director. "Our members come from all sectors of the industry, including the Park City Chamber/Bureau and Park City lodging. " We are striving to represent the tourism industry with one cohesive voice." "Right now, the coalition is working toward the legislative session, and we are hoping to be able to work with legislators, with the industry, and show that the appropriation we receive is one of the best returns on an investment regarding state dollars."
As the association grows, its strategy is changing in attempts to lobby legislators more effectively. Last year, the coalition formed a new component of the organization dedicated specifically to raising funds and building relationships with legislators to have a bigger impact on Capitol Hill.
UTIC created the Tourism Works Political Action Committee (PAC) with the hopes push a pro-tourism agenda that would not only better engage the tourism industry, but also affect the political process and raise PAC money to help elect pro-tourism candidates, according to the organization.
"We really don't have a full agenda yet," Anderson said. "We have a legislative agenda for UTIC, but the PAC is only in its first year. We are really looking at donations, but we have to more thoroughly develop a strategy. The PAC is still a work in progress."
This year, the Utah Office of Tourism is allowed to ask for up to $12 million in funding after proving to legislators that the industry impact has grown, pulling in more business to the state than the year before. The tourism industry increased by 4.07 percent this year, more than a full percentage point above the necessary amount to receive increased funding from legislators.
The upcoming legislative session will be another test for the industry, with longtime Utah Office of Tourism Executive Director, an administrator well-known among legislators, Leigh von der Esch stepping down. But Gov. Herbert has recommended to legislators to increase spending for the office, increasing the budget to $11 million for the 2014 fiscal year.
"We're cognizant, as always, of the pressures on legislators to make budget decisions," Anderson said. "There are vital programs such as education and transportation, programs that must be properly funded. We fit into that economic picture, as a major revenue generator. We help support all of these programs."
Though state legislators in past sessions have faced budget shortfalls and significant cuts to programs across the board, cuts that included funding to the Utah Office of Tourism, the 2012 Legislative Session marked the first increase in the tourism budget in three years. From $7 million in 2011 to $9 million in 2012, more organizations received more in funding, including in Park City.
Summit County organizations pulled in one of the largest amounts, roughly 16 percent of the Cooperative Marketing budget, totaling $310,400 awarded to four separate organizations. The Park City Chamber/Bureau received the maximum amount this year, one of only three organizations in the state to do so.
"We've been fortunate in the last couple of years," said Park City Chamber/Bureau President and CEO Bill Malone in a past interview with The Park Record. "We asked for the maximum amount that can be allotted and, in the last few years, we've gotten it."
"I think part of the reason we've been so successful is because we have a very measurable, track-able campaign," he added. "With the Quick Start program, we are able to track people registering online for the program and then bringing their boarding pass in return for day-of-arrival complimentary skiing. It works."
Tourism Marketing Performance Fund:
*The Utah Office of Tourism