Fate of tourism funds that aid Park City is in lawmakers’ hands | ParkRecord.com

Fate of tourism funds that aid Park City is in lawmakers’ hands

Money helps Chamber/Bureau’s marketing efforts

Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, is closely watching the Utah legislative session to see how state tourism funding could impact Park City. He says the Chamber/Bureau relies on the Utah Office of Tourism to supplement a number of marketing efforts.

Many businesses and organizations in Park City are eyeing the 2017 Utah legislative session with interest, but perhaps none more so than the Park City Chamber/Bureau, which relies on the state for vital funding to enhance its marketing efforts both in the U.S. and abroad.

That funding mechanism is called the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund (TMPF), which is included in the state budget and must be approved by legislators. Lawmakers allotted an all-time high of $21 million last year because the state's tourism industry skyrocketed beyond its performance goals, but Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said there is some reason to believe the industry won't receive such a windfall this year.

He said the state's overall revenues remained relatively stagnant last year while other demands for funding, from public education to Medicare programs, have increased. That means it's possible the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund could be lost somewhat in the shuffle.

Recently, both state legislative chambers passed a base business, economic development and labor budget that included just $18 million for the TMPF. That amount, though, could be supplemented in the final budget, which is typically one of the final pieces of legislation passed each session.

"It's frustrating on the one hand to say, 'Well, tourism is doing its part. It's generating sales tax that is growing and funding these other needs,'" he said. "But the state is kind of at that point to say, 'Well, we've got these pressing needs right now.'"

Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, however, is optimistic lawmakers will end up increasing the TMPF because they recognize how valuable the industry is. In 2016, tourists spent $8.17 billion in Utah, generating $1.15 billion in tax revenue, she said.

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"This is the point in the legislative session where there are so many moving parts and so many programs that need to be funded and so much new information coming in about updated revenue projections," she said. "You really just have to breathe deep through this period and be confident that people really believe in our industry. I have absolute confidence in legislators that they will do everything possible to increase investment in our industry."

That would be important for Park City because the Chamber/Bureau typically receives around $275,000 to $300,000 from the TMPF for joint marketing efforts with the Utah Office of Tourism. Malone said that money is used to supplement extensive advertising campaigns in markets that serve as important pipelines to Park City, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.

If lawmakers provide $18 million for the TMPF this year instead of increasing it — as they've done every year recently — it could ultimately cost the Chamber/Bureau tens of thousands of dollars — or even more than $100,000 in an extreme (and unlikely) scenario, Malone said.

"If the dollars go down, that's a direct challenge for us," he said. "We say, 'Well, maybe we wanted to go into San Francisco but we don't quite have that many resources to do it, so we have to look at other markets.'"

A stagnant or declining TMPF would also impact Park City if it prevents the Chamber/Bureau from partnering with the Utah Office of Tourism as much it has in the past on important international marketing efforts. In recent years, the state has been critical in helping Park City strengthen footholds in places such as Australia and Brazil.

And at a more broad level, the Utah Office of Tourism's winter marketing efforts have been a boon to Park City, despite the Chamber/Bureau not being directly involved in them. Malone said customers who see commercials touting Utah's skiing think of Park City even if the city isn't explicitly mentioned.

"What they spend in terms of winter marketing probably benefits us to a great extent," he said. "You look at the fact that Deer Valley (Resort) and Park City (Mountain Resort) collectively represent about 43 percent of the skier days in the state of Utah, so we're going to benefit from their efforts on that."