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SALT LAKE CITY -- Has Utah’s attraction for tourism increased?
In the nearly 10 years since Salt Lake City and Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, the question is apt. The years directly following the Games saw an immediate and marked boost in tourist activity and tourism dollars spent, and this growth has continued despite the recent economic woes of many Americans. Whether this upswing will persist in the face of a likely double-dip recession remain to be seen, however.
The economic impact of the Olympics
Experts dispute the real profitability for the host city of an Olympic Games. It is generally thought that the worldwide media exposure, combined with improvements in infrastructure, provide a “legacy effect” that the host cities benefit from for years afterward. In other words, potential visitors see the host city and its way of life on television, and this enhances their desire to visit.
This has certainly been the case for Barcelona, which hosted the Summer Games in 1992. The Games raised the city’s profile in the eyes of the world, and since hosting the Games, it has become one of Europe’s main tourist destinations.
Barcelona’s success has not been duplicated in some other host cities, however. Sydney, which hosted the Games two years before Salt Lake City in 2000, actually suffered a decline in international visitors for three years after its Summer Olympics.
What makes this slump even more striking is that New Zealand saw a dramatic rise in visitor arrivals during the same period. Things got so bad that the Australian Tourism Commission launched an ad campaign featuring the slogan, “So where the bloody hell are you?” to try to lure tourists back to the country.
What have the Games done for Utah?
According to the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition’s report on the state of the tourism industry, nearly every indicator points to an augmentation in tourist activity for the 2004-09 period. During these years, tourist spending was up by more than 10 percent, skier visits by more than 16 percent and national park visitors by more than 12 percent. The same report estimates that the state’s tourism industry generated $6.23 billion in visitor spending in 2009.
By these measures, it seems likely that the Olympic Games have had a major positive effect on Utah’s tourism.
Looking to the future
The year 2010 was also good for Utah tourism. In spite of the financial difficulties faced across the country and around the globe, the Utah Office of Tourism’s visitor statistics for last year indicate that the number of visitors to the state rose in nearly every quarter.
Hotel occupancy can also be an effective indicator of growth in tourism. Hotels.com, a website known for its discounted hotel prices, releases a yearly report revealing hotel prices and sales by location.