SALT LAKE CITY — Travelers in Utah spent a record $7.4 billion in 2012, according to a new study.
The tourism industry has been steadily growing, and preliminary numbers suggest the trend will continue through 2014, according to the study from the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah. Researchers examined the impact tourists and Utah residents traveling within the state had on Utah's economy.
Travelers who are not Utah residents spent $5.3 billion while they were visiting the state, researchers found. If tourism was considered an export, they said it would be the state's second largest. The largest export is currently primary metals, which brings in $12.2 billion, followed by computers and electronics, which brings in $2.2 billion.
“We are very lucky to have the geography we have with the mountains and the desert — not every state has that,” said analyst Jennifer Leaver. “I think there are some great assets here."
Utah's outdoor attractions had the greatest draw for travelers, according to the study. The national parks saw 6.6 million visitors in 2012 and national monuments and state parks saw 5.1 million visitors each. There were also 4 million skier days during the 2012/2013 season.
Researchers said the tourism industry supported more than 129,000 jobs in 2012, with about 1 out of 10 jobs in the state being affected by tourism in some way, either directly or indirectly.
With the exception of the recession in 2008 and 2009, Leaver said the spending numbers have been trending upward. Tourism-related tax revenue grew 13 percent from 2011 to 2012. The revenue grew 42 percent from 2003 to 2012.
Leaver attributed some of the recent increase in tourism spending to the Utah Office of Tourism's "The Mighty Five" campaign. It started in the spring of 2013 and advertised Utah's national parks in six major cities in the Western U.S.
"I would say that a lot of people outside of Utah may not have heard of Utah and so getting the word out through marketing and through just beautiful images can bring more people here and they can realize what we have to offer them," she said. "They can spend their money and meet new people and I think overall it's a positive thing. It will continue to grow, I believe.”
Contributing: Dave Cawley