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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Office of Tourism is partnering with global online lodging platform Airbnb to launch a new program that offers adventure seekers and tourists the chance to experience unique-to-Utah activities.
The partnership announced Wednesday is a way to get travelers to engage more with the communities they visit and leave with a deeper, richer Utah experience, explained Vicki Varela, executive director of the state tourism office. It is also an opportunity to develop micro-entrepreneurship opportunities throughout the state, she added.
The program will help promote the office's "Red Emerald business strategy," which aims to get people off the beaten path, encourages longer tourist visitation and increases visitor spending, she said. The Red Emerald initiative is an internal guiding document that focuses on prioritizing promotional and product development efforts within the state Tourism Office toward creating Utah travel experiences that are "rarefied, distinctive, unique to Utah and highly coveted," the agency website states.
Utah has "amazing opportunities" for people to have "more defining experiences" that give them a better sense of local culture and heritage, she said. The program is also a way to support Gov. Gary Herbert's 25,000 rural jobs initiative, which is aimed at increasing employment and commerce in the state's less populated areas, she added.
"It's a huge part of our business strategy at the Office of Tourism. This is especially important in rural Utah," Varela said. "It's really quite inspiring — all the different ways people are transferring their talents and passions into business opportunities. It certainly enhances the local and visitor experience."
Utah is the first state to partner with Airbnb Experiences, she noted. Airbnb has paid $9.4 million in transient room taxes since October 2016, she said.
Launched in 2016, Airbnb Experiences today boasts more than 10,000 hosts in 180 cities around the world, explained David Owen, Policy Development Manager at Airbnb. In Utah, the platform will offer nearly 50 experiences in locations throughout the state, including guided hikes, tours of the local food scene and unique wildlife experiences, among others, Varela said.
Utah has something for everyone and I take a lot of pride in showing my Airbnb guests how beautiful the state is.
Experiences are hosted by knowledgeable locals who want to share their passions and expertise with guests, Owen said. The experiences help connect them to a different and truly authentic side of the community, he added.
"It's designed for people who are visiting who really like to experience the place like the locals do," he said. "Also, it's something for locals as well. (Whether) you're looking for weekend plans or there is something that you've always thought about doing but didn't know anyone."
Experiences are booked on the Airbnb platform and are a way for Utahns to share their expertise, make more money and connect with a vast audience of highly engaged travelers, he said.
"Sustainable local tourism is a central focus for us as a company," Owen said. "This new business is really a way for us to help create a platform for people who want to build their own Experiences business in their own communities and bring those tourism dollars and keep them right there in their community."
For San Juan County native Carol Talus, Airbnb Experiences is a way to get more visitors to her southeast Utah community while promoting her personal guide services hiking in the ancient hills of White Canyon. Additionally, the business gives her the opportunity to share her Native American heritage with interested visitors.
"For me, it's important to represent Navajo Nation, especially for the younger generations. It's important that my community share their stories and start their own businesses which will help them with job security," she said. "Utah has something for everyone and I take a lot of pride in showing my Airbnb guests how beautiful the state is."