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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is fast becoming a popular destination for international travelers looking to experience the great outdoors, and many are leaving behind big bucks to fill state and local coffers.
According to the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding, total direct state and local taxes generated by traveler spending was $1.02 billion in 2013. The state government portion was $592.1 million, while the local government draw was $424.7 million. For the year, tourists spent $7.5 billion.
Vicki Varela, managing director of the state tourism office, said the major driver for the state’s tourist economy has been interest in Utah’s natural splendor, including the ski industry, five national parks and 43 state parks.
“The brand that Utah is developing is an outdoor recreation mecca,” Varela said Wednesday, speaking from the Utah Tourism Conference in Ogden.
The annual three-day conference is co-sponsored by the Utah Tourism Industry Association and the Utah Office of Tourism.
Revenues from the transient room tax, or hotel tax, grew by a little more than 10 percent last year, Varela said, while the restaurant and car rental tax rose 9.8 percent in 2013.
“The last several years has reflected a spectacular economic recovery, and Utah has led the nation,” she said.
Though it would be beneficial to continue that pace, economically speaking, such growth is not especially sustainable over the long term, Varela noted.
$7.5 billion: Tourist spending in Utah $1.02 billion: Total direct state and local taxes 132,000: Number of people employed in tourism-related occupations $3.7 billion: Total wages of tourism-related employees 4.2 million: Number of skier visits 6.3 million: Number of visits to Utah's national parks 5.2 million: Visits to prominent national monuments
Therefore, she said, her office has projected tax revenue growth from tourism to be around 3 percent this year and in 2015.
“We know that we are going to continue to grow,” Varela said. “As part of our growth strategy, we have expanded dramatically what we are doing internationally.”
Last year, more than half of international tourism spending came from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The new marketing program will include hiring representatives in target countries to organize Utah group vacation packages, visits by travel writers and promoting Utah in their home countries.
For example, some of London’s iconic black taxis will be wrapped in Utah red rock images, while in Berlin, “the Greatest Snow on Earth” will blanket German travel agency websites, and travelers in Shanghai can schedule a Utah vacation with interactive planning tools.
“We have a number of different strategies playing out all over the world (in order) to get international visitation up,” Varela said.
China in particular is a major emerging tourist market for Utah, she said.
“Last year alone, Temple Square had 2,000 tour buses full of Chinese visitors,” Varela said. “So this year, we’re making a big play in the Chinese market. It’s a huge market for us.”
Building the state’s tourism economy “is spectacular economic development for our state,” she added.
Among the other economic benefits of state tourism include 132,000 people who were employed with tourism-related occupations, with wages totaling $3.7 billion, explained Utah Office of Tourism spokeswoman Emily Moench.
Utah hosted 4.2 million skier visits in 2013, along with 6.3 million visits to Utah's national parks, and 5.2 million visits to prominent national monuments, recreation areas and historical sites, Moench said. Additionally, the state hosted more than 4.1 million visits to Utah state parks.
Looking ahead, Varela said, the goal of the state’s tourism marketing campaign is to elevate Utah’s global profile to attract more foreign visitors to the Beehive State.
“Our strategy is working. We have more international tourists spending more money in Utah,” she said. “We are becoming a bucket-list destination.”