Tourism conference unites state
When tourism becomes the rage and the governor supports it, the result is a big party in Price, Utah.
"This was by far the best conference we’ve had. It was a break-out session to what was presented from our standpoint," said Mike Deaver, the deputy director of advertising for the Utah Office of Tourism. "It was the best and we are only going up from here."
The State Tourism Conference was recently held in Price at the College of Eastern Utah and was well attended by merchants, chamber/bureaus and other organizations from across the state, including Governor Huntsman, according to Bill Malone, the executive director for the Park City Chamber/Bureau. "There was lots of good representation from around the state. For a small town, Price did a nice job hosting it."
Malone said Huntsman spoke about how pleased he was with tourist money that flooded Utah’s economy as a result of increased marketing.
"He’s right on board with the efforts," Malone said.
"This is a pillar of his economic development program," said Leigh von der Esch, the managing director for the Utah Office of Tourism.
Price lobbied to host the event this year and they didn’t disappoint von der Esch.
"People who have never been (to Price) were certainly pleasantly surprised and excited. The hospitality in Price was extraordinary," von der Esch said.
Von der Esch wanted to create a conference where attendees could collaborate and share ideas to bring more tourists into Utah.
"We discussed what’s working and what’s not working," she said. "It gave our office an opportunity to reach out to people and explain why we do things."
The Office of Tourism "can often appear to operate in a vacuum" if it does not communicate its plan, she said.
"There is a transparency to what we do what we do," von der Esch said. "We were able to (communicate) our policy and (explain) the process by which we market overseas and how we verify what is a good media contact. You just have to keep talking and sharing information, we said, ‘This is what we figure our core asset is,’ and ‘How can you help us move the needle?’"
Malone said the format gave some legitimacy to the Office of Tourism that it may not have had before.
"It’s night and day from what it was a few years ago," Malone said. "We looked at the Utah Office of Tourism as being somewhat irrelevant, but now they are a real partner in the state. It’s really nice to see, because it’s not just an ‘us them’ situation, everybody’s participating in this."
Von der Esch said part of her goal is creating teamwork within the state to promote tourism from city to city and industry to industry.
"There’s a confidence among the board made up of representatives not only from political jurisdictions, it also it represents different industries, lodging, restaurant, rental cars, organizations like Ski Utah," she said.
"It’s been a great help," Malone said. "Not only has it helped us into new markets in the ski season. But it’s also helped us with individual events in the community, the jazz festival, the Performing Arts Foundation and the Kimball (Art Center). It’s not just a Chamber/Bureau thing. It’s touched others in the community."
Everyone who attended brought their marketing materials and shared what they were doing. Prior to von der Esch’s leadership, the conferences were more about a speaker and lecture rather then a combined discussion to unify marketing schemes.
"We are looking at sharing with people, and they may have a hidden gem in their area to share with us," she said.
Malone said the sessions covered a wide array of topics.
"There were lots of good sessions," Malone said, "everything from meeting with the state Office of Tourism on their plans and conversations to talking about Web site ideas."
Malone said there were sessions on a variety of topics such as national park issues, public lands and working with the Office of Tourism to market various organizations.
"They had a good session that walks you through how to create good applications for coop marketing programs," Malone said. "We’ve been pretty successful with how they have applied to the state for assistance."
The only criticism was the conference’s length of time, or lack of it.
"The feedback we got wasn’t wasn’t long enough," von der Esch said.
Because a majority of attendees wanted more, von der Esch said they might hold another one this fall and make it a bi-annual conference.
"It was very upbeat," Malone said. "It was very positive, there was very little in terms of a downside."
Malone said the morale among those involved with Utah tourism is "pretty high" because of the rising visitor numbers as a result of the increased government funds.
"Every place has been seeing pretty positive movement in their numbers," Malone said. "We’ve never had a real budget in the state in tourism, especially a big chunk before."
That big chunk came in the form of $11 million dollars the last two years in a row.
"Before Governor Huntsman took office, we only had $900,000," Deaver said. "We’ve set all kinds of marketing records as far as garnering attention to Utah as a tourist destination. But there’s still a lot we can do and need to do."
An example of the effectiveness was the Madden Inserts that were placed in various papers in the West recently.
"Madden has been huge," Deaver said. "People have told me they’ve had 2,000 to 4,000 leads and they’ve never had that many leads from one targeted campaign."
Deaver just returned from a multi state conference that discussed tourism. After seeing other state’s tourism programs, he said Utah is on the right track.
"I really think we are in the forefront of a lot of things," Deaver said. "With only having two and a half years, we’ve done some wonderful things and we’ve come out the gates."
But to continue the momentum, von der Esch said funding is still needed.
"This funding is very important," she said. "We start over every year to get it and we have to continue to talk to the Legislature about the importance of the funding."
Other states are in a competition with Utah to gather tourists.
"We saw Colorado leap frog us with millions," von der Esch said. "New Mexico called us to see what (funding) we have, because they wanted to beat us."
Deaver called the competition with other states a "friendly rivalry" and said Utah needs to continue to compete.
"Tourism is a $6 billion-a-year industry in Utah," Deaver said. "The better people perceive Utah, there is certainly a correlation for moving a business here and doing business here. Tourism is really the frontrunner on how people view Utah."
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