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Utah bids farewell to Olympic welcome signs

Utah bids farewell to Olympic welcome signs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah will soon say goodbye to welcome signs that for a decade have promoted the state as the home of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Workers will begin replacing the signs found at entrances to the state Wednesday with new ones that feature a variety of more colorful, geographically specific images. The new look is intended to market Utah as a year-round tourist destination and remind passers-by that some of the most stunning scenery in the West belongs to Utah and not its neighbors, as image surveys have shown many people believe.

"It's not a matter of moving beyond the Olympics. That will always be part of our fabric. This is about reinforcing the brand that we have spent a considerable amount of effort, time and money on in the last three years," said Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

Tourism is a growing $6 billion a year industry in Utah. Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman focused state efforts to draw visitors when he took office in 2005, growing spending on marketing from $900,000 a year to nearly $12 million this year.

While the winter games gave Utah unprecedented publicity, a nationwide image survey released in 2006 showed that most people thought Utah's 'iconic images' were actually in Colorado, Arizona or New Mexico. Those images included Salt Lake City's skyline against a backdrop of mountains, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park and Golden Spike National Monument.

The state has launched an extensive nationwide advertising campaign since then and the new welcome signs are intended to help address the image association problems, von der Esch said.

"I do think it'll go a long way," she said. "This is our welcome mat to the person driving into the state. They may not be staying in the state, but they'll have a far richer welcome with these signs than we had before."

Even without the old welcome signs, plenty of reminders of the 2002 Olympics will remain in Utah, including Olympic parks, a museum and artwork underneath highway overpasses. Retaining a strong link to winter sports is critical for Utah because those who ski and snowboard here stay longer and spend more per day than any other visitors, state statistics show.

That lucrative demographic is another reason state officials want tourists to identify Salt Lake City's skyline -- which is on one of the new signs -- with Utah instead of Colorado.

One of Utah's primary selling points is that Salt Lake City and its airport are much closer to the mountains than Denver and its airport.

In all, 35 new signs will be placed at highway entrances, welcome centers and at Salt Lake City International Airport, said Nile Easton, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman.

Featured images include a skier, a dinosaur, Zion National Park and Lake Powell. The designs are based on illustrations by Utah artist David Meikle and are among the most unique welcome signs in the country because of the dominant role of the artwork.

The signs will cost $252,000 and all of them should be in place by May, he said. The signs will be paid for with money that gas stations, restaurants and hotels pay to place their logos on exit information signs.

The first sign showing a skier in waist-deep powder snow will be placed Wednesday at the Wyoming state line along the Mirror Lake Highway.

UDOT estimates that 19.5 million vehicles will drive by the 29 signs placed along major entrances to the state each year.

Souvenir hunters will be able to bid on the old welcome signs on eBay later this year, Easton said. Traditionally, old road signs sell for about $100 to $200, he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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