Breathtaking hike in the morning. Breakfast at a hometown diner afterward. An enlightening tour of the headquarters of a worldwide church with fine-dining lunch somewhere in between. One four or five hour drive later and the rest of the afternoon is spent ascending a 1,200 foot summit in a national park, only to finish the day with a delightful presentation of a Shakespeare play.
For Utah tourists, this span of different activities is all in a day’s work.
Utah offers visitors a chance to live “life elevated” and witness some of the world’s most unique locations. Tourism in Utah has increased over the past six years, and with all the diverse attractions, the outlook is optimistic for further growth.
“Two words about Utah come to mind — landscapes and possibilities,” Karen Henker, lead interpreter at Arches National Park said. “There is a beauty from end to end on this state and you can also do so much. It’s not just for the scenic driving, but there’s just so much you can do.”
Utah is home to five national parks, countless state parks and historical sites which draw in visitors every year. From the geographic gems to the hallways of history, tourists have access to the vast expanse Utah offers.
The parks in Utah span most of the southern part of the state. Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion are nationally renowned for their breathtaking vistas and unique natural landscapes.
“The beauty of these landscapes and the space that is visible here is definitely one different thing,” Henker said. “Our eyes can feast on 40-mile vistas and Utah has so much diversity.”
Zion National Park brings in more visitors than any of Utah’s other national draws. In July of 2011 nearly 400,oo0 people journeyed to southern Utah to experience the thrills of Angel’s Landing, Subway or the Narrows. These hikes are some of the most popular in the park and are nationally renowned.
Arches National Park had similar success with tourism over 2011. The visitor total increased by two percent from 2010, totaling nearly 200,000 people. These tourists come from all over the world to experience such unique destinations.
“National parks in general see a lot of overseas visitation,” Henker said. “We get a lot from France and Germany and eastern countries. The image of Delicate Arch has become synonymous with Utah and they all want to see ‘the arch,’ even though we have some 2,000 of them.”
Utah also holds numerous historical sites, the most prominent of which is Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The heritage of the saints is one of the defining aspects of Utah’s culture.
Shawn Swinston, the director of communications for visitors to Salt Lake, said the capitol offers such a big draw because of the immensity of Temple Square.
“The headquarters of the worldwide LDS church and Temple Square are right here,” Swinston said. “It’s the number one tourist attraction in the state. People are fascinated with religious and cultural tourism and Temple Square falls in line with that.”
Temple Square spans more than 35 acres of Salt Lake City and draws in approximately 5 million visitors each year. Volunteers and missionaries facilitate tours for these people, introducing them to the Conference Center, Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and the Legacy Theater.
These attractions represent a small portion of Utah tourism, which includes more than national parks and the capitol. The 2002 Winter Olympics provided propaganda for national attention and tourism increase.
“The Olympics were really the tipping point of Salt Lake becoming a national and international destination,” Swinston said. “There was a lot of curiosity before, but the Olympics just really reached people that had not considered Salt Lake as a destination.”
Events and places like this bring people into the state and leave them wide-eyed all the while. The growth can be attributed to several variables.
Why the growth?
Utah’s tourism has increased over the past six years due to increased marketing and subsequent changed perceptions of the state.
“Some parks in the nation are trending down,and we have amazing parks, but the growth has to do with the fact that we are promoting,” Tracie Cayford, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism said. “Utah has been aggressive since 2005 in marketing and advertising as a tourism destination.”
In 2005, the Utah Office of Tourism received additional funding from the legislature which came in the form of cooperative marketing money. These funds contributed to a new Utah campaign, the “Life Elevated” slogan and the accompanying publicity.
“It’s an aspirational campaign, it means different things to different people,” Cayford said. “When you come to Utah, your life is elevated and your life is changed. That can be anything from an incredible outdoor experience or a fine-dining experience. It’s a very flexible brand.”
Cayford also said the lower tourism rates in the past were not so related to a negative perception as they were to simply no perception at all.
“That perception that Utah is not a desirable place to visit has changed,” she said. “It wasn’t that it was undesirable, we found that people just didn’t know about us. What we’ve done is educate them about what is available in Utah.”
Tourism in Utah also grows because people come and, after a positive experience, encourage their friends to do the same.
Bill Malone, CEO of the Park City Chamber or Commerce, discussed in a 2011 Utah Business article the growth of Utah’s popularity due to satisfied visitors spreading the word.
“This is what happens when you have a good program, you stick to a brand, it’s well thought out, and then you sit back and watch it morph,” Malone said. “If you’re from Long Island and your neighbors all go to Colorado skiing and you go to Utah skiing, you’re kind of a trendsetter now.”
That act of setting trends draws more people to Utah every year. In addition, more people are willing to explore the diverse offerings to find the best in Utah.
“Our customers are shopping around, especially in the luxury brand,” Malone said. “People aren’t bashful about picking up a phone and calling competitive properties and comparing rates and playing one against the other to get the best deal.”
When tourists seek out the best and Utah delivers, more tourists are drawn to the west. This trend has a definite impact on the overall growth of the industry and the state as a whole.
With more than 20.2 million tourists coming to Utah every year to visit the various attractions, the state benefits from the rise of tourism.
“We’ve had an increase in national park visitation, state park visitation,” Jim Buchanan, research coordinator at the Utah Office of Tourism said. “We’ve had an increase in visitors in Utah spending money, which is what we want them to do when they come here and enjoy everything the state has to offer.”
According to Buchanan, the tourism has seen significant growth since 2005, which contributes to the overall growth of the state.
“We’ve had several very high-end hotels and resorts being built here in Utah over the past three or four years,” Buchanan said. “Businesses see Utah as an opportunity to expand and they have been very successful.”
The advantage of this growth is that it benefits more than just the tourism industry.
“It’s a boon for everyone,” Buchanan said. “New restaurants, new hotels. When people come here, they spend their money and we get the taxes of that. Taxes from tourism go directly into the general fund.”
Buchanan said tourism brings in approximately $842 million revenue for Utah every year. Since this money goes into the state general fund, it pays for roads and schools and decreases the tax dollars for Utah households.Tourism in Utah brought $1,012 in tax savings per Utah household last year.
Another advantage comes in the increase for employment opportunities. Total travel recreation employment reached 122,000 people last year, the vast majority of whom were Utah natives.
“The more people that come here, the more positive it is for Utah,” Buchanan said.
The growth of Utah tourism is a self-sustaining process that draws more people to the state. Some people choose to stay here permanently because of their positive tourist experience.
“Tourism is probably the most sustainable economic aspect of the state because it’s not going anywhere,” said Ben Dodds, a distribution and travel information representative at the Utah Office of Tourism. “When people see these places they’re going to come back and they’re going to tell their friends.”
Dodds grew up as a Chicago resident and was initially drawn to Utah because of the claim as a state with the “greatest snow on earth.”
“I wanted to go to school somewhere where I could be close to awesome snowboarding,” Dodds said. “That was years ago, and now I live here. It has been a great experience.”
People like Dodds act as prime examples of the impacts of tourism on Utah. The national parks, the religious draws and the historical sites bring success to the state and satisfaction to the sojourners.
“Utah has five national parks, 43 state parks and the greatest snow on earth,” Buchanan said. “We feel that Utah represents the best of the Rocky Mountains and the western United States.”
If Buchanan is right, it is no wonder people are satisfied with a full visit to the gateway to the west. Utah offers tourists more than they can imagine, and above all else, a “life elevated.”