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ENCOURAGE TOURISTS TO SEE BACK COUNTRY, U.S. OFFICIAL URGES

More foreign tourists should be trekking through Utah's back country instead of crowding the state's better-known national parks, a federal tourism official said Friday.

Linda M. Mysliwy, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, was in Utah to attend a conference on coordinating foreign travel marketing among federal agencies that deal with public lands.Mysliwy said an agreement among the federal agencies to work together to promote international tourism will lead to increased tourist revenues for small communities nationwide, including those in Utah.

The 42 million foreign visitors to the United States annually want to see the Grand Canyon and other internationally famous sites. But they also want to see more of the nation's heartland, Mysliwy said.

"They're looking for more of an experience in real America," she said. "They want to get off the main highways into the back country and get in touch with the culture and history of a region."

The National Scenic Byways Program, through which scenic back roads are specially designated, is one way all travelers can have that experience. But other opportunities are available on public lands, Mysliwy said.

The agreement reached between five agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, will make it easier for the federal tourism administration to promote lesser-known areas, she said.

Much of the promotion in the past has been for national parks because the tourism administration has been working closely with the National Park Service for the past decade.

Now that the national parks have become such a must-see for international visitors, the federal agencies want to take the pressure off the most popular sites by providing alternatives.

Both Mysliwy and Jerry Meredith, director of external affairs for the Utah office of the BLM, said the new promotional effort will help protect the environment even if more tourists head to the wilderness.

"The people are coming anyway. We can do nothing and they'll still show up. Or we can do something, and they'll show up in places where we can deal with them better," Meredith said.

Besides easing the strain on the most popular national parks, pitching other public lands will boost the economies of nearby communities, which are turning increasingly toward tourism as other industries falter.

"It means jobs. It means income. It means tax revenues right down to the local level," Mysliwy said. Even the smallest towns should share in the $6 billion brought to the United States annually by foreign visitors.

Utah already receives about 700,000 foreign visitors a year. Thirty percent are from Canada, 15 percent from Germany and the rest are from Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland, France and other countries.

Mysliwy said the new promotional effort, which is already under way, should bring even more international tourists to Utah within the next three to five years.

For example, Mysliwy said, the Germans who flock to the red rocks of southern Utah represent only a small portion of that nation's potential travel market.

About 1.5 million Germans came to the United States last year, but research by the tourism administration has identified as many as 10 million Germans who are likely to consider traveling to this country.

Bringing foreign tourists has more than financial benefits, she said. "It's the exchange that takes place that leads to an understanding between cultures that's the real gift of tourism. That shouldn't be overlooked," Mysliwy said.