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TRAVEL ADDS OOMPH TO ECONOMIC BOOM

One of the largest components of Utah's rapid economic growth this decade has been its burgeoning travel, tourism and recreation industries, a new study concludes.

"Objective: Destination Utah, A Long-Range Strategic Plan For Tourism Development" said that about $3.55 billion was spent by travelers to the Beehive State in 1995 alone.That total exceeded the economic contribution to the state's Gross Domestic Product of Utah's agricultural and mining industries combined, researchers said.

The study - two years in the making - is to be released Wednesday by Dean Reeder, director of the Utah Division of Travel Development, at the 1996 Governor's Conference in Economic Development, Tourism and Recreation.

"Tourism is an excellent source for improving the economy and quality of life for our citizens," Reeder said. "This long-range strategic plan will serve as a model for other tourism industry leaders to help manage tourism impacts in every corner of the state."

In the report, Janeen Costa, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Utah, recommends shifting current tourism promotion strategy to targeting those interested in Utah as a destination.

"Utah's mission used to be just bringing more tourists to Utah," Costa said. "Now we are talking about quality versus quantity trade off."

Now, Utah is what she characterized as a "windshield" tourist state: People drive through in their cars on the way to somewhere else, taking in as many sites as they can.

"We want tourists who help pay for the impact they have on public services," Costa said. "People who come in spend more money and stay longer but do not adversely affect the cultural aspects of the environment."

Currently, an estimated 15 million out-of-state visitors come to Utah annually. This year, tourists are expected to spend $3.75 billion in Utah and contribute $2.75 billion in tax revenues.

The study calls for a goal of increasing those tax revenues to $500 million by 2005.

Nearly half of Utah's visitors come in winter and summer months for outdoor activities, tending to cluster at ski resorts and national parks. The average tourist spends $60 a day while here.

Those who spend less than $31 a day do not cover their own costs in such public services such as garbage collection, sewage disposal, water, public safety and search and rescue.

To attract more visitors during other than winter and summer months, Utah must develop more destination opportunities, among them guest ranches, weekend activities in commercial areas and off-season promotions other than skiing at mountain resorts, Reeder said.

Salt Lake City also needs about 2,000 more hotel rooms, the study recommends. Researchers found the current supply inadequate to handle downtown changes expected to attract more tourists such as rebuilding and expansion at the Salt Palace convention center, and growing retail businesses.

The study also recommends upgrading airports in southeastern and southwestern Utah to accommodate jet aircraft.

A key to increasing economic benefits is convincing Utah residents to consider tourism a full-time industry rather than a summer or part-time endeavor, researchers said.

Tourism currently accounts for about 8 percent, or 73,000 jobs in the state, up from 7.8 percent, or 69,000, in 1985, the study said.

Tourism generated $185 million in state tax revenues in 1994, compared to $193 million last year. Local governments realized $62 mil-lion in tourism-related tax revenues in 1994 and $69 million in 1995, the study said.

Researchers found that the importance of travel and tourism on the local level varied throughout the state. Garfield County, followed by Summit, Grand, Kane and Wayne counties, led in the category of tourism's share of total employment.

The report identified Colorado as Utah's primary competitor for tourist dollars, given shared reputations for good skiing venues. However, researchers suggested that Utah - with its less-crowded slopes - can sell visitors on the advantages of "a more intimate, secluded experience."

Utah's hosting of the 2002 Winter Games also should give the state a boost in competing with Colorado, the study surmised.

Researchers also announced plans for a separate study on visitors' perceptions of Utah's liquor laws, which restrict liquor sales to state-run stores, require hard liquor to be dispensed by one-ounce meters, and allow only one drink per person to be brought to a table at a time.

The study points to a 1994 survey conducted by the state Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control that found three out of four tourists who responded believed Utah's liquor laws negatively affected their visits to the state.