SALT LAKE CITY — Tourists dropped a record $9.75 billion into Utah’s economy last year, a 6.5% increase in spending over 2017, with national and state parks both reporting record visitation.
A new report released by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah provides a detailed analysis of the impact visitors to Utah are having on the state, generating $1.28 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Last year, Utah ranked 32nd in the nation for domestic visitor spending and 23rd in international spending.
The top three states sending visitors to Utah last year were California, Nevada and Idaho, while Canada, China and Germany were the top three sources of international visitors, according to the report released Thursday.
Both national and state parks reported record visitation in 2018. More than 10 million people went to national parks, and close to 7 million visited one of Utah’s 44 state parks, a 17.9% increase over the year. Dead Horse State Park logged the most visitors, at 750,000, while Great Salt Lake State Park experienced the largest year-over-year visit increase — at 126.2%.
“It was a good year for state parks,” said Eugene Swalberg, spokesman with Utah State Parks. He added that especially along the Wasatch Front, popular parks like Deer Creek and Jordanelle are reaching capacity on holiday weekends during the summer camping season.
As more people venture out, the parks division is looking to boost the visitor experience by improving amenities with the help of the Utah Legislature letting the division be more flexible with its funding.
“They have been very generous with us,” Swalberg said.
The ski industry also enjoyed a record number of skier days, at 5.1 million, with skiers and snowboarders dropping $1.76 billion on lodging, dining and lift passes. California, Texas and New York were the top three domestic sources of visitors and nearly 1 out of 15 skiers and snowboarders visited Utah’s resorts from outside the United States.
Overall, the travel and tourism industry supports 136,000 jobs, according to the report. In the last 10 years, the private leisure and hospitality employment sector has grown in all 29 counties. Canyon Country, the southeast region of the state, supports the largest share at 43%. The analysis says 1 in 11 jobs in Utah is supported by the travel and tourism industry.
The top counties hauling in taxable sales for leisure and hospitality are: Salt Lake, Utah, Summit, Davis, Washington, Weber, Grand, Cache, Wasatch and Kane.
Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, was pleased at the numbers.
“Our primary focus at the Office of Tourism is building up a quality and sustainable tourism economy,” she said. “That means we are looking for the right visitors who will got off the beaten path, have an adventuresome spirit and be able to discover the places in Utah that want to build out their tourist economy. This report tells us that we are generally on track with the strategy.”
She added that the business strategy aims to promote Utah to provide the best experience for tourists, and the residents who live here.
“It is not about volume, it is about quality, quality quality,” she said.