Salt Lake County drives Utah tourism

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers in Utah, and it’s getting bigger.

A new study highlights what’s drawing in the dollars, and it’s not just our national parks.

Millions of people visit Utah every year, but they’re not just coming here for our parks and our slopes.

According to a new study from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, Salt Lake County is driving Utah’s tourism economy with a unique urban experience.

”People sometimes feel that our state's visitor economy is red rock and snow,” said Scott Beck, the CEO and President of Visit Salt Lake." When the real focus of the visitor economy is here along the Wasatch front,” he added.

The Jazz, the theater, food, shopping (and lots of it) – a one-of-a-kind mix of outdoor adventure and urban excitement that keeps tourism numbers, and spending, on the rise.

“That unique blend is what we feel is our secret sauce,” Beck said with a smile.

Every year visitors are spending more and more money in the state. In 2014, visitor spending accounted for roughly $7.982 billion. Fast forward to 2016, and that number is more than $8.4 billion.

”The visitor is made up of the leisure tourist, the medias and conventions goer, and the business traveler; we are at the peak of all that,” Beck said.

And while statewide spending increases each year, so does spending in the greater Salt Lake area, accounting for nearly half of all spending that took place statewide in 2016—44.2% at $3.7 billion to be exact.

”Salt Lake represents this very unique urban experience in Utah, that’s our point of differentiation,” Beck said. ”People come here for business, and then they find out this is a really cool place.”

“And this is not to be trite… but the people here are amazing!” he added.

”It’s beautiful and there’s just a lot of friendly faces,” said Joe Sharaya, a first-time Salt Lake visitor in town for a conference at the convention center.

“To feel welcome, to feel that people want you in their community, that’s really, really important,” Beck said.

According to Visit Salt Lake, the tax revenue from all of the tourism spending in Salt Lake County amounts to more than $500 million, enough to lighten the local tax burden for residents by $1,285 a year.

”That’s a thousand dollars that locals don’t have to spend because visitors spend it for them!” Beck exclaimed.

Of course at the end of the day: "The best part about the visitor, is they come to our community, they spend money and then they go home,” Beck laughed.

“And they leave all of their taxes they paid in our community, and we don’t have to educate them… and we very rarely incarcerate them!” he chuckled.

Visit Salt Lake said even though this is a high point following three years of growth, they have no reason to believe things are going to slow down.