SALT LAKE CITY — Even without the typical number of international and business visitors, the Salt Lake City International Airport reports that air travel is back to pre-pandemic levels.
"Salt Lake is definitely back. The airport is back. Flying is back," said Bill Wyatt, the airport's executive director.
Wyatt said he expects some record-breaking days at the airport this summer, despite the reduced level of international travel.
"We're pretty much back to where we were pre-pandemic in Salt Lake," Wyatt said. "We're at 105% of where we were in 2019, and that puts Salt Lake City International at the top of the list."
He said Utah is a top destination because people feel safe in the outdoors. There was a strong demand for air travel during both the summer and winter tourism seasons.
Zions Bank senior economist Robert Spendlove joined Wyatt at the airport for a press conference Tuesday morning and said the return of the travel industry is one of the final pieces needed for the state's economy to fully recover from the pandemic.
"The busy Fourth of July travel weekend is a great sign that our travel and tourism industry is making a strong comeback," Spendlove said. "A boost in summer travel will have far-reaching impacts on the economy, bringing back jobs and stimulating additional growth."
Spendlove said while it will take time for business travel to fully bounce back, several business conferences are booked in Utah for later this year and many relocated from other cities.
"The business side of tourism continues to recover, although much more slowly than the leisure side of travel," Spendlove said.
The busy Fourth of July travel weekend is a great sign that our travel and tourism industry is making a strong comeback. A boost in summer travel will have far reaching impacts on the economy, bringing back jobs and stimulating additional growth.
In April, hotel occupancy rates in Utah returned to 2019 levels, according to a research brief, "Back to Baseline: Utah's Tourism Economy Rebounds Post-Pandemic," by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
"One year since the arrival of COVID in the U.S. and Utah's tourism economy is back on track," the June report said. "Leisure and hospitality employment in southern Utah rebounded 'back to baseline' last fall, while the rest of the state began catching up this spring."
This March, 22 of Utah's 29 counties collected more transient room tax revenue than in the same month in 2019, according to the report. The counties still below their 2019 hotel tax revenues were Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Uintah, Utah, Wasatch and Weber.
The report said that all signs indicate that urban travel will make "huge strides towards recovery" during the second half of this year.
"Meanwhile, increased vaccine distribution, swollen savings accounts, and widespread remote employment will continue to bolster travel during the second half of this year, bringing the entire state back to — and even well above — 2019 baseline by 2022," the research brief said.
The Utah Office of Tourism said the state's world-renowned outdoor destinations continued to attract visitors during the pandemic.
"Our Mighty Five national parks have been setting monthly visitation records every month since October 2020," said Anna Loughridge, the tourism office's public relations manager.
Loughridge said the travel economy in urban areas will recover more fully as business, convention and event travel resumes.
"There are two different stories here: urban destinations are definitely still working towards recovery but a lot of our rural, gateway communities have already reached those 2019 numbers," she said.