Tourists love Utah, and BEBR’s research proves it

As warmer weather signals the start of the spring and summer tourism season, many people start planning family trips and romantic getaways. And increasingly, according to a new study published by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, or BEBR, at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, they are taking those trips to mountains and deserts of Utah.

BEBR recently released a state of the tourism industry report that provides a comprehensive overview of tourism, travel and recreation-related spending, employment, wages, visitation, sales, tax revenue, and industry performance in Utah. The paper can be found at

“There have been steady increases in visitor spending and tourism-related jobs, wages, sales and tax revenue for the past three years,” said BEBR research analyst Jennifer Leaver. “Utah’s national parks and places have reported annual growth in visitation since 2007, despite the most recent recession.”

Based on preliminary 2013 numbers, Leaver anticipates moderate growth from 2012 to 2013 in tourism-related sales and tax revenues, modest growth in the leisure and hospitality job sector, and slight decreases in national parks and places visitation, due in large part to the 2013 government shutdown during southern Utah’s tourism season. Leaver predicts visitation to Utah’s national parks will rebound in 2014 based on the success of “The Mighty 5” marketing campaign, which was launched by Utah’s Office of Tourism last spring.

“Utah has so much to offer,” said Natalie Gochnour, an associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business. “Visitors are drawn to our ski resorts, mountains and parks, as well as to our cultural and historical assets. Utah really has something for everyone.”

The national parks, national monuments, state parks and ski resorts in Utah are major sources of tourism jobs and dollars, a point emphasized by the study. In 2012, Utah recorded 6.6 million national park visits, 5.1 million national monument visits, 5.1 million state park visits, as well as 4.0 million skier days during the 2012/2013 season. As a result, Utah’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry—which includes parks, ski slopes and museums—had the strongest economic performance of any Utah industry between 2008 and 2012, followed by the food service industry and accommodations industry.

Some highlights of the report:

  • Tourists and travelers spent a record $7.4 billion in the Utah economy during 2012.
  • Utah nonresident visitor spending of $5.3 billion benefitted the Utah economy in a similar way to merchandise exports. If tourism were an export, it would be the state’s second largest export behind primary metals ($12.2 billion) and ahead of computers and electronic ($2.2 billion).
  • In 2012, Utah’s tourism industry supported an estimated 129,088 total jobs in the Utah economy.
  • Approximately one in every 10 jobs in the state’s economy is in the tourism industry, directly or indirectly.
  • Utah ranks higher than California, Texas, Illinois, and New York in travel-generated employment share.
  • Between 2003 and 2012, total direct leisure and hospitality jobs and wages increased 19 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
  • Over 40 percent of total private direct jobs in Daggett, Garfield, Grand, Kane, Summit and Wayne counties are in the leisure and hospitality sector.
  • Summit, Washington, Garfield, and Utah counties all experienced over 25 percent growth in leisure and hospitality jobs from 2003 to 2012.
  • In calendar year 2012, taxable sales in the leisure and hospitality sector totaled $5.3 billion, a 6 percent increase from 2011.
  • Tourism-related tax revenue grew 42 percent from 2003 to 2012, with a 13 percent increase from 2011 to 2012.

“Utah’s tourism, travel and recreation industry is an integral part of Utah’s economy,” said Leaver. “It generates jobs and wages, diversifies by directly and indirectly supporting a variety of businesses, and contributes to Utah’s overall tax base.”

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