Tourism Office facing budget cuts |

Tourism Office facing budget cuts

Gina Barker, The Park Record

Utah’s tourism industry is putting up a united front this legislative session. Following disagreements with Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposed budget which included a million dollar cut to the Utah Office of Tourism’s advertising budget the industry is making its case: tourism is worth every cent.

According to the Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget, in 2011 the Utah tourism industry generated $842 million in state and local tax revenue. An estimated $501 million for state tax revenues and $341 million in local tax revenues, making Utah tourism an investment with more than 120 percent return for every dollar spent on advertising.

"This is an opportunity for industry leaders to tell legislators how important how important this $6.5 billion industry is to the state," said Leigh von der Esch, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. " There’s always a concern for budget cuts. You can’t take anything for granted."

Industry members from across the state gathered under the Utah Capitol Rotunda Wednesday for the chance to speak to legislators directly as part of the annual "Tourism Day," held by the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition. It was the time to push back against budget cuts, down to the prepackaged lunches given away to the public that read "$7M or More."

"Our challenge today is to make our case and show the incredible return on the investment of tourism," said Executive Director of UTIC Nan Groves Anderson. "’Tourism Day’ is a major tool in telling our story."

For the past four years, Utah’s tourism budget has been reduced from more than $11 million in appropriations in 2008 to $7 million for the 2012 fiscal year. Even though von der Ersch supports the governor’s budget, if more cuts are passed then the tourism office may have to sacrifice some of its largest national ads campaigns in cities like Los Angeles, she said.

The Park City Chamber/Bureau had its own booth and a handful of local businesses including all three of Park City’s resorts meandered through the crowd, pulling legislators aside as they got the chance.

Chamber President Bill Malone said legislative budget cuts will filter down to places like Park City. Malone said Park City works with the Utah Office of Tourism in joint campaigns that would be difficult to afford if the chamber had to carry the entire burden.

"Park City is a big part of the hospitality community," Malone said. "We benefit a lot from what the state does in terms of attracting people to Utah, so we’re part of the team."

"The television campaign we’re doing in New York and Los Angeles right now is funded in part by the Utah Office of Tourism," he added. "If their budget is smaller, that equates to less dollars we have."

Rep. Patrice Arent, who attended the Capitol Hill "Tourism Day," said that budget cuts to tourism were unacceptable.

"I do not support cutting the budget," Parent said. "Tourism is so important to this state. Every dollar we put in, we get so much more back."

Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Summit county representative, said that he would be surprised if there were actual cuts to tourism funding. He explained that the budget was looking at being reduced to $6M but would include one-time spending to make up the difference. Anderson said that was not enough, that the risk tourism runs by accepting that is leaving next year’s appropriations at $6M without renewing any type of one-time funding.

"Funding is vital for tourism," Anderson said, "and beyond that it affects every single one of Utah’s counties, every legislator. That’s what we want people to know."

State Funding to the Utah Office of Tourism:

2006: $10M

2007: $11M

2008: $11M

2009: $11M

2010: $7M

2011: $6.95M

2012: $7M

2013: TBA

*The Utah Office of Tourism