Utah tourism goal: 25 million visitors | AspenTimes.com

Utah tourism goal: 25 million visitors

Brock Vergakis
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY ” Gov. Jon Huntsman announced an ambitious goal to increase the number of visitors to Utah by 25 percent in the next four years.

Huntsman set the goal of attracting 25 million visitors by 2012 during the state’s annual tourism conference Wednesday.

The effort comes as the nation’s economy struggles and airlines raise fares because of the rising cost of oil.

“Obviously, it’s a concern,” said Leigh von der Esch, director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “But one of the things we’re teeing off of … in our advertising is that no matter what’s happening in the economy, you deserve to reward yourself with a vacation.

“Your vacation is part of the fabric of your life,” she said. “That should be the last thing you give up on your income.”

Huntsman said Utah can count on a growing number of international travelers and that he would work to improve the state’s tourism infrastructure.

“It isn’t perfect and we’ve got a ways to go and some issues to work on,” he said.

Tourism leaders this week complained to Huntsman about a lack of convention space and workers. Concerns were also expressed about transportation needs, von der Esch said.

Utah uses Salt Lake City International Airport’s proximity to ski resorts as a selling point over other states. Some resorts offer free lift tickets to people who show they landed at the airport the same day.

“We pride ourselves on our transportation. I think looking forward, we don’t want to be Denver on Interstate 70 out of the airport waiting in gridlock,” she said.

Huntsman also acknowledged frustration with the state’s image, particularly its strict alcohol laws.

“We’re going to make these policy priorities,” the governor said.

Huntsman helped change Utah’s liquor laws this year so bartenders can pour up to 1.5 ounces of liquor in a standard cocktail, up from 1 ounce.

But as part of that change in law, Utah also is becoming the only state to ban the sale of flavored malt beverages in grocery stores.

Utah tourism is a growing, $6 billion industry that Huntsman has made a cornerstone of his economic-development plan since taking office in 2005.

In the past three years, the number of visitors to the state each year has increased to 20 million from about 17 million. The estimates are based on several factors, including tax collections at airports, car rentals, hotels and restaurants.

The jump occurs as the state tourism office’s annual advertising budget increases to $11.7 million, starting July 1, from about $900,000 when Huntsman took office.

Getting permanent funding from the Legislature is a key to making the state a destination, von der Esch said.

She said the tourism department is also working to improve Utah’s image as a summer destination ” not just a place to go skiing.

“We do have a vision for the future. We are a year-round destination. Not everyone around the world realizes that,” she said.

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