Report: Utah tourism took $700 million hit in 2009 |

Report: Utah tourism took $700 million hit in 2009

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY – Tourism spending in Utah declined by 10 percent in 2009 and visitor numbers fell by nearly 1 million as the recession hit the state’s ski and lodging industries particularly hard, according to a report released Thursday.

The 2010 Economic Report to the Governor shows that hotel occupancy rates reached their lowest level in at least six years, the number of skier visits to the state’s 13 resorts dropped by 300,000 and an increasing number of travelers decided to pack up the car and drive here rather than fly.

The $700 million decline in traveler spending, which was $6.2 billion in 2009, snapped years of growth in the tourism industry – one of the state’s largest sectors.

“People who came out here spent their money differently. The same family of five might have come out – they’ve gotta have that ski vacation and do whatever it takes to get it. Instead of renting three hotel rooms, they squeeze into one or stay at their a unt’s house,” said Nathan Rafferty, president of the industry group Ski Utah.

While spending declined, 2009 was still the third-best year on record, and the report forecasts that there will be a modest increase in traveler spending this year as the economy slowly recovers.

The one aspect of the state’s tourism industry that saw growth in the past year was visitation to state and national parks, which increased 4.4 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively, as families sought cheaper vacations.

In response to the economy, the Utah Office of Tourism has spent the past year promoting the state as an affordable place to visit. And Salt Lake City area hotels are reminding skiers they can find inexpensive lodging only 30 minutes from mountain resorts.

Skiers and snowboarders are important to the state economy because they tend to stay longer and spend more per day than other travelers.

Rafferty is forecasting that the number of skier visits in the state wi ll increase by 3 percent this season to about 4.1 million. While ski resorts were hampered by a later start this season than some previous years, Rafferty said bookings for the remainder of the season are positive and the 3 percent goal can still be met if it continues to snow.

“The skiing has been fantastic. A lot of those skier day numbers, about half of them are locals, and the locals ski when it snows,” he said.

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