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Utah tourism making post-recession comeback, report says

SALT LAKE CITY — International travelers are helping Utah recover from the tourism decline precipitated by the Great Recession.

A new University of Utah report says more people are heading to the Beehive State to experience Utah’s numerous tourist activities — and bringing with them lots of much-needed revenue.

The Bureau of Economic and Business Research Tuesday released “The State of Utah’s Tourism, Travel and Recreation Industry,” a comprehensive overview of tourism, travel and recreation-related spending, and employment, wages, visitation, sales, tax revenue and industry performance in Utah.

Utah’s tourism-related industries have experienced strong post-recession comebacks, said research analyst Jennifer Leaver. “In particular, leisure and hospitality sector jobs and sales have experienced healthy gains since 2009, as have tourism-related tax revenues,” she said.

Much of the growth can be attributed to increased marketing efforts that have targeted foreign and U.S. visitors.

“We love Australians because they get 25 days of government-mandated vacation time,” said Vicki Varela, director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “Many Australians come and spend their full vacations in Park City skiing.”

Varela said the state has expanded its marketing effort in Australia as well as Great Britain and China. The Office of Tourism reported that Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and China were Utah’s largest international markets in 2012 based on VisaVue records.

Due to its burgeoning new middle class, Varela said, China has become a major focus of the state’s tourism plans.

“We are launching an aggressive marketing strategy in China,” she said. “We hired a (representative) there to help us capture that market.”

She said last year, 2,000 tour buses carrying Chinese visitors came to Temple Square alone.

“We doing our international marketing more strategically than ever before by hiring trade representatives in those key countries,” Varela explained. “There is this over-arching U.S. travel strategy (Brand USA) to bring more tourists here. Through Brand USA, we are able to create customized marketing campaigns in the countries that we choose to target our story on our terms.”

Also, beginning next month the state will launch a major national tourism campaign on 18 cable television channels, she said.

Projecting into 2015, the bureau predicts a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in tourism-related jobs and wages, along with 6 percent to 8 percent increases in tourism-related sales and tax revenues.

“Not only does the tourism industry provide jobs and wages to Utahns, it adds to the versatility, stability and diversity of the Utah economy,” said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean at the U.'s David Eccles School of Business.

The report indicates that tourists and travelers spent a record $7.5 billion in the Utah economy during 2013, with Utah nonresident spending of $6.4 billion benefiting the local economy in ways similar to merchandise exports.

If tourism were an export, it would be the state’s second-largest export behind primary metals and ahead of computers and electronics, Leaver said. Traveler spending generated a record $1.02 billion in total state and local tax revenues, the report states.

Data showed that in 2013, the state’s tourism industry supported about 132,681 jobs in the Utah economy, with almost one in every 10 jobs in the state’s economy attributed to the tourism industry, directly or indirectly.

Utah ranked higher than California, Texas, Illinois and New York in travel-generated employment. Between 2009 and 2013, tourism-related jobs and wages rose 6 percent and 17 percent, respectively, the report states.

More than 40 percent of total private direct jobs in Daggett, Garfield, Grand, Kane, Wayne and Summit counties were in the leisure and hospitality sector in 2013, with taxable sales totaling $5.6 billion — up 20 percent from 2009 and up 5 percent from 2012.

Additionally, tourism-related tax revenue grew 22 percent during the four-year period from 2009 to 2013. Leaver noted that international tourism is expected to continue its expansion this year because of new regulations on foreign visitors, particularly from previously restricted countries.

“Utah may experience a greater influx of Chinese tourists in 2015 due to recently relaxed visa regulations and a strong U.S. economy, coupled with lower gas prices," Leaver said. "It could fuel greater domestic travel to Utah as well.”

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1