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TOUR PLANNERS TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT UTAH

SHARE TOUR PLANNERS TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT UTAH

When Bill Chisholm returns home to Portland, Ore., he's going to tell his friends about Salt Lake City.

That's a big deal to Utah officials. Chisholm makes his living assembling tour packages, and many of his friends are clients.Chisholm is one of about 3,400 tour operators and people with jobs related to the vacation industry who are in Salt Lake City this week for the annual convention of the National Tour Association. Utah officials hope the weeklong show will result in millions more in tourism revenue as tour operators return home and start pushing Utah.

First, however, they have to make sure people like Chisholm have a good time. So far, he's all smiles. He scoffs when asked if he's had any trouble getting a drink.

"No problem. I've been impressed," he said. "This has given me the chance to see new things here that I didn't know of."

Most residents along the Wasatch Front probably don't know the show is in town, but convention organizers talk of it as a major coup for the area. George Guenther, the association's president-elect, said the group plans its conventions seven years in advance. Minneapolis was just chosen to host the 1996 show. Association officials estimate the state will eventually see up to $12 million more in tourism revenue because of the show. In 1988, group tours brought in an estimated $128 million in revenues to the state.

"The impact is always great," Guenther, a Philadelphia tour operator, said about what the convention does for the host city. "We already send a number of tourists to Salt Lake every year. But I've never personally been here."

The convention includes a section where tour operators, officials from each state and owners of restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related industries are allowed to hecticly lobby each other for seven-minute periods.

"They come here to work hard," Talmadge said of the delegates. "All day long they are either selling or learning their business."

But the best way to sell is to show, and that's the advantage Utah tourism officials hope to press this week. Not surprisingly, delegates to the convention are spending much of their spare time taking tours. Saturday night they ate dinner at Snowbird Lodge during a snowstorm.

J.D. Smith, a tour supplier from Montreal, said he and other suppliers talk for years about the good conventions. They also talk about the bad ones, although he wouldn't identify any.

"If it was unsuccessful, it would definitely have a downer effect," he said.