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State disputes claim that tourism numbers weren't as advertised

State disputes claim that tourism numbers weren't as advertised

Posted - Apr. 14, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

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Update: Statement from the Governor's Office of Economic Development"We are aware that KSL picked up an AP story that, from our perspective, was not fully complete. The estimated tourists to Utah are not all coming to the state by air, and we do not believe we overestimated by 200,000 visitors.

"The estimates in the AP story were done prior to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays last year, which is clearly a major travel time, ... and our several methods of tracking tourist traffic shows that over 75 percent of the state's visitors do so by car, and the price of gasoline in December was down to approximately $2 a gallon.

"The story also did not take into account the significant tourist travel that the state has in bus tours or air travel into the St. George gateway to southern Utah.

"Therefore, we believe that when these additional traffic counts are considered our estimates will be very close to the reported numbers of 20.4 million visitors and any variation will be substantially less than 1 percent."

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State officials vastly overestimated the number of visitors who flew into Utah last year during a global economic meltdown when deriving their estimates on the number of tourists who came here.

The Governor's Office of Economic Development said in a news release this week that 20.4 million visitors came to Utah in 2008, an increase of about 200,000 people from the year before.

But an Associated Press review of Salt Lake City International Airport passenger statistics shows state officials overestimated the number of passengers who flew into Utah last year by more than 200,000 people.

David Williams, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said it's unclear what the final impact of the passenger traffic discrepancy will be. He said that's because not all of those 200,000 passengers would be considered tourists and that his office will also have to examine final automobile traffic numbers to get a better sense of what the total number of visitors are.

"When you're talking 20 million people, maybe a change of 100,000 or so is not that big of an impact," he said. "My sense is it's not going to change it very much, one way or another."

The news release issued by GOED on Monday touting the growth in tourism last year cites statistics Williams' team compiled for the 2009 Economic Report to the Governor, which was issued Jan. 9. That report uses data from several sources, including airport passenger traffic, to derive its estimates. The reports notes that those statistics can change once final numbers are in.

Williams said estimates on airport and automobile traffic are made for the report in November.

The airport released final passenger statistics for 2008 on Jan. 28. Airport statistics were revised again in February to note an increase of about 2,000 passengers, but those figures are still far off from the tourism department's estimates.

It is unclear how much the incorrect numbers impact state estimates that tourist spending increased by more than $400 million last year to $7.1 billion.

In 2007, the Utah Office of Tourism estimated that overnight leisure travelers spent $101 a day and stayed an average of five days.

GOED spokesman Michael Sullivan said his news release was intended to share good news about Utah's economy and he was unaware of the discrepancy in airport passenger statistics.

"Even with high fuel costs being passed on to consumers in the form of higher airfare and other travel costs, Utah's Office of Tourism reported that 20.4 million people visited the state in 2008," the release said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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