Utah State Legislative session has pluses and minuses for tourism
From seeing a controversial DUI bill upheld to successfully lobbying for an increase to the state’s the tourism marketing budget, the Park City tourism industry came out of the Utah State legislative session with successes and failures.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau said that one of the main triumphs was the removal of a proposed increase to the state transient room tax in S.B. 136. The bill would have increased the tax, which visitors pay on short-term lodging, from 0.32 to 3 percent. The revenue from the tax would have gone toward the transportation budget, but tourism officials worried visitors would balk at the increased cost of lodging.
“Once we showed them what those numbers looked like and comparing that to competitors from other states, it looked pretty awkward,” he said.
The bill was adjusted early on in the session after pushback from the tourism industry. The bulk of the bill, which did pass, focused on transportation governance.
Another success was the approval of an increase to the state’s tourism marketing budget. The Tourism Marketing Performance Fund was given a $24 million appropriation, a $3 million increase in comparison to last year, Malone said.
Since tourism generates about $1.15 billion in state and local taxes, Malone said that the increase in the budget is a nod to the money tourists bring to Utah.
One of the reasons Park City would benefit from the increase is that the Utah Sports Commission receives 10 percent of the money. The commission helps support events such as the FIS World Championships, which is scheduled to take place at resorts in Park City next year, and world cup events that take place at the Utah Olympic Park.
Plus, a percentage of that money goes into a fund that disperses grant money to the Chamber/Bureau for marketing projects.
Utah lawmakers also passed a bill (H.B. 484) to create the Winter Sports Venue Grant Fund, which will provide grants to certain winter sports venues in the state for facility improvements. This would help prepare Utah to host a future Olympic Games if it wins a bid, Malone said.
“For a place like (Park City), it’s always good to see the Utah Olympic Park and Soldier Hollow staying up to date,” he said.
The other major talking point during the legislative session revolved around alcohol. Bills that would have made Utah a more alcohol-friendly state did not pass, Malone said.
H.B. 107 would have made it legal for foreign visitors to use additional forms of identification, such as a driver’s license, at bars. Currently they are only able to use their passports, which Malone said can be a hassle for foreign tourists visiting the state.
There were two bills that attempted to delay the implementation of the law that will lower the DUI limit from a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 to 0.05, but neither passed. The new law, which is scheduled to go into effect at the end of this year, adds to Utah’s reputation as a place where it is inconvenient to drink, Malone said. The Chamber/Bureau will be working hard this year to counter that sentiment.
Lawmakers also decided not to make changes to a law that is set to go into effect on July 1, which will eliminate “dining clubs,” a classification used for liquor licenses designating businesses as a combination of a restaurant and a bar. It was decided that establishments can register as both restaurants and bars, but they need to ensure that the two areas are separate, Malone said.
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