Tourism boom recognized, but worries about snow abound
Utah’s tourism industry is flourishing — that was the message officials from around the state shared at the ninth annual Tourism Day on the Hill held Wednesday at the Utah State Capitol building.
Representatives from 17 counties were in attendance, touting the tourism opportunities their areas have to offer. Among them was Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, which had a booth set up in the building’s rotunda.
He said a booming tourism industry boosts the local ski industry and vice-versa. Out-of-state tourists spent $6.4 billion in Utah in 2013 — the last year with available data — according to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. That is welcome news in Park City.
"It goes hand-in-hand," Malone said of the relationship between the state’s tourism and Park City’s economy. "It’s all together. And I think an event like this relays that. When you’ve got San Juan County over here, and Flaming Gorge over there and then you have Park City. The fact is that we’re all connected."
Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert attended the event and met with representatives from several of the counties. He told reporters that the tourism industry’s success plays a vital role in the economic health of the state and generates about $1 billion in tax revenue. He said that’s why the state is committed to helping foster the industry through the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund, which in 2014 doled out $15 million a year to promote tourism. Malone said Park City annually receives the maximum possible amount from the fund, which last year was $275,000.
A bill that would tweak the performance-based requirements for increasing the money available in the Tourism Marketing Performance Fund is currently being considered by the Utah State Legislature. If passed, it would not drastically alter the amount of money available on a yearly basis, Malone said.
"We see the results of that investment," Herbert said. "It’s a six- or seven-to-one return-on-investment as it ripples through the economy. It’s a great place to invest our money."
A main focus of further improving Utah’s tourism is maximizing recreational offerings. Brad Petersen, the director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, which Herbert created in 2013, said his office is working on bringing recreation opportunities to rural areas that don’t currently have them. Bringing in visitors to recreate in those areas would significantly diversify those local economies.
That fits into Herbert’s overall vision for tourism.
"We’re accelerating opportunities for tourism and travel throughout the state," Herbert said. "People are discovering Utah in new ways."
While optimism abounds among tourism officials, several expressed concern about the path forward for the ski industry — which is a major player in the state’s tourism scene — in light of the trend in recent years of less snowfall. The snow pack throughout the state this year is well below historic averages.
Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, which had a booth at the event, said worries about snowfall are unlikely to be going away anytime soon.
"It’s always going to be a concern for us," he said, noting the industry has fared well this year, despite the lack of snow. "We can’t ski without snow. It’s absolutely going to be a concern. That’s why the resorts — including in Park City — have invested heavily in snow making."
Herbert said the lack of snowfall is a "real concern," but added that resorts have taken a proactive approach to insulating themselves against Mother Nature — something that will be increasingly important in the future.
"It would be nice to have more snow in the mountains, helping with the ski industry," he said. "I do appreciate the fact that our 14 ski resorts have met with me and said, ‘Just so you know, we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in each one of our resorts.’ I’ve asked them about that, and they say, ‘We’re doing that because we believe in the future of Utah.’ They’re also expanding their tourism and travel opportunities to not just be ski resorts only, but for spring and fall and summer."
Malone said that Park City resorts are among the best equipped for non-winter activity.
"Our trail product is second-to-none," Malone said. "We have infrastructure that may have been built for winter, but in today’s market, you can’t survive off of one season. You need to have summer business to keep jobs on a year-round basis, and to make sure restaurants stay healthy so they are there in the winter and for retail, as well."
According to Petersen, the overall recreation industry is not plagued by the same worries about snowfall.
"What you find is these outfitters continue to improve their overall trips, and it has less and less to do with what the natural element is and more and more to do with the actual experience we’re delivering," Petersen said.
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