COVID-19 trashed Utah’s $10B travel and tourism scene, but it may be on the rebound

Visitors board a shuttle at Zion National Park on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

Visitors board a shuttle at Zion National Park on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 public health crisis has decimated Utah’s multibillion-dollar travel and tourism industries, but even as case counts across the state remain in record territory, some glimmers of recovery are beginning to appear.

While Utah’s national parks are among the state’s biggest tourist draws, restrictions brought on by the pandemic led to the loss of 3.3 million visitors to the so-called Big 5 just between January and August of this year — a drop of over 40%.

But the worst of those impacts may be in the rearview mirror as visitor traffic volumes have shown steady growth since brief closures of the national facilities in the spring.

Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said the southern Utah gem, and the state’s first national park, just saw a record month of visitors.

“We just had the most visitors ever in the month of September,” Bradybaugh said. “We’re grateful to see the rebound.”

Bradybaugh was part of a wide-ranging Zoom discussion Wednesday focused on the state’s travel and tourism sector and hosted by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Before the curtain of pandemic-related restrictions dropped decisively in mid-March, Utah tourism and travel was racking up another set of benchmarks, including over $10 billion in visitor spending, some $1.3 billion in related tax revenues, over 800,000 room nights booked just in Salt Lake City and an annual growth track north of 5%.

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The year before COVID-19 appeared saw unprecedented spending and tax receipts, more visitors than ever packing Utah’s state and national parks and a ski season that, even truncated by COVID-19, still managed to approach record volumes.

Analysis by Gardner researchers shows Utah’s national park visitation has been affected by the loss of international visitors (U.S. travel restrictions), the reduction in long-distance domestic visitors (travelers staying closer to home) and park visitor limitations (enacted by the National Park Service to insure social distancing). However, droves of Utahns and visitors from nearby states are looking for outdoor recreation opportunities and have helped drive visits to Utah state parks to levels well above 2019 visitor volumes.

“Consumers respond positively to seeing people, even in the outdoors, wearing facemasks. They want to know they’re coming to a place where people are showing personal responsibility.” — Vicki Varela, Managing Director, Utah Office of Tourism

Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, had a simple message to deliver about what Utah residents can do, individually, to help the tourism and travel industry recover from COVID-19 impacts.

“The most important, the most fundamental thing everyone can do to facilitate the recovery of our industry is to wear their face masks,” Varela said.

Varela noted that while international tourism has taken a precipitous drop amid pandemic conditions, short- and medium-distance domestic visitors are still very much in play for the state’s recreation-related businesses. And the collective behaviors of Utah residents in response to COVID-19 are under close observation by …read more

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Source:: Deseret News – Business News


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