Utah Tourism Industry Bounces Back From Pandemic | Utah News

By K. SOPHIE WILL, The Specter

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) – As the world nears its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is at least one industry rebounding – travel and tourism in Utah.

It is one of the state’s most profitable industries, contributing $ 7.07 billion to the economy and supporting thousands of jobs last year, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the Kem C. Gardener Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Compared to the rest of the United States, Utah saw more visitor spending and more in-person travel as people ventured away from cities and to outdoor destinations like the Five National Parks of the United States of America. State, the Spectrum newspaper reported.

“Overall, travel and tourism in Utah has performed better than industry in neighboring states and the United States as a whole,” the report says.

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Prior to the pandemic, Utah’s thriving travel and tourism industry was already breaking visitation and fundraising records and was poised to continue on that trajectory, official data shows.

Although the travel and tourism industry is the industry hardest hit by the pandemic in 2020, the report says the industry experienced a “healthy recovery” during the first half of this year, particularly in rural areas.

“Domestic visitors have traded their air travel for road trips, hotel reservations for short-term rentals and city plans for rural adventures,” the report said.

This year, while the COVID-19 Delta variant and now the Omicron variant continued to perpetuate a delay in visits, travel is still expected to increase, experts say.

“Of course, the increase in travel in 2021 has largely depended on the production, distribution, administration and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and the status of government travel restrictions.” , indicates the report.

Here’s what the Gardner Institute report found about the travel and tourism industry in 2020 and early 2021:

Entrance communities to Utah’s national parks lost more than 5,000 jobs last year and hundreds of millions of economic dollars, officials said.

“Visitors to Utah National Park spent the most on lodging, restaurants and gas,” the report said.

And while most of Utah’s national parks broke monthly visitor records last year, especially in the fall, overall the parks have lost nearly 3 million visitors, the national park of Bryce Canyon losing nearly 44% of its usual visits, the most of any park in Utah.

However, the numbers appear to be leveling off near 2019 levels, according to the report.

“Based on recent NPS visit data, record visits continued to Utah’s five national parks in the first half of 2021, then fell below 2019 baseline visits in July 2021,” indicates the report.

While 10 of Utah’s national sites have lost visits, Cedar Breaks National Monument saw an almost 50% increase in visitor numbers with more than a quarter of a million new visitors last year.

Of those who visited Utah in 2020, Californians, Nevadans, Idahoans, Coloradans, Arizonans and Texans were the largest groups of visitors.

State parks and ski resorts were the unexpected heroes of the industry as they were inundated with visitors, breaking records.

And recreation-related sales soared in 2020 from the previous year, with recreation and vacation camp sales up more than 80%.

Due to the pandemic, visitors spent almost 30% less than the record spending of $ 10.13 billion in 2019.

The ripple effect of that meant nearly 120,000 fewer tourism jobs and more than $ 250 million in lost tax revenue statewide.

“The top three tourism-related sectors that suffered the greatest job losses in 2020 were the accommodation sector (-4,536 jobs), the arts, entertainment and recreation sector (-2,671 jobs) and the performing arts sector (-1,808 jobs), ”the report said.

However, Canyon Country, or the region in southeastern Utah, where four of the five national parks are located, holds the largest share of recreation and hospitality jobs in the state.

Southwestern Utah is the third-highest grossing area for taxable entertainment and hospitality sales in the state, according to the report, with more than $ 730 million in total taxable sales. Washington County is the fourth highest grossing county in the state with nearly $ 600 million in taxable sales.

The only industry to come out of 2020 relatively unscathed was the RV parks and camps industry with an almost 12% increase in taxable recreation and hospitality sales, where all other tourism industries lost millions of dollars. dollars.

Statewide accommodation occupancy rates have fallen by more than a quarter, impacting the transitional room tax on which tourist boards, local governments and many others depend. ‘others.

Washington County garnered the third transitional room tax, or the tax levied on hotels and lodging to support government tourism issues, even as occupancy rates were declining.

Short-term bookings also increased last year, according to the report, along with “an increase in the number of digital vagrants and pleasure migrants, which has supported the growth of” Zoom Towns “, or a growing community filled with new remote workers.

These rentals, like Airbnb and VRBO, grew 45% in Washington County in 2020, when they accounted for only about 4% of all homes.

But in Kane County, where part of Zion National Park resides, more than 13% of homes were for short-term rentals – the third highest in the state. Grand County, home to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, has the second highest share of short-term rentals at nearly 19%.

Despite the reopening of international travel in November, experts said there would be a

As of now, the Gardner Institute identifies climate change, the seasonal housing shortage, the hospitality workforce shortage and equity, diversity and inclusion as the current issues facing the industry. Utah travel and tourism is facing.

“A recent scientific study reported double the rate of warming in US national parks compared to the United States as a whole,” the report said.

Otherwise, housing for travel and tourism workers is critical to securing the future of Utah’s leisure industry, officials said.

“When a landlord can earn a typical month’s rent in a few days by renting to tourists, there is little incentive to rent longer term for the leisure and hospitality workforce. “, says the report. “Unfortunately, if seasonal workers cannot find accommodation, hotel businesses could face serious understaffing and possible closure.”

The Gardner Institute said the focus should be on securing employee housing, even if that means fewer short-term rentals.

“The conversion of long-term employee rentals to short-term visitor rentals has intensified the employee housing crisis,” the report said. “Meeting the ever-changing job demand requires a mix of local and non-local workers; and these employees need housing.

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