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Outdoor Retailer’s contract with Salt Lake City to host the Summer and Winter Outdoor Retailer shows expires at the end of 2014, and the organization has been exploring its options for future growth. On Thursday, Outdoor Retailer (OR) released the results of a survey conducted among the show’s stakeholders to determine their preferences—to stay in Salt Lake or to move to a city with greater capacity.
The results are mixed, with Utah-based retailers strongly in support of staying in Salt Lake and non-Utah-based retailers divided nearly evenly.
“We weren’t surprised by the data,” said Kenji Haroutunian, Nielsen Expo Outdoor Group vice president and OR show director. “We really worked hard and were challenged to include thousands of voices—stakeholders from the industry.”
Outdoor Retailer and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) collected input from more than 3,000 stakeholders, including retailers, exhibitors and reps. The twice-yearly shows are outgrowing the Salt Palace Convention Center, said Haroutunian, and the organization also faces challenges with the availability of hotel rooms, rental cars and cabs.
Variety and location of hotel accommodations were the top challenges reported by retailers and exhibitors in the survey. With about 27,000 people attending the summer show, the lack of accommodations has become a major hurdle, he said, adding that many end up in hotels far from downtown Salt Lake.
According to the survey, Utah-based retailers overwhelmingly support keeping the show in Salt Lake by limiting growth or reducing market segments. However, only 37 percent of non-Utah-based retailers are in favor of limiting growth to stay in Salt Lake, while 44 percent oppose that option.
Likewise, more than 90 percent of Utah-based retailers are opposed to moving the show out of the state, while only 42 percent of non-Utah-based retailers are opposed to a move.
At 28 percent, Utah-based retailers made up a significant chunk of the retailer respondents.
Haroutunian said the lack of consensus among respondents reflects the diversity of voices within the outdoor industry, which encompasses everything from camping and hiking to water sports to yoga and Pilates.
“It makes it hard. It makes it more of a compromise,” he said of the choice between host cities.
Outdoor Retailer has been evaluating six cities, including Salt Lake, to find a long-term home for the summer and winter shows. Salt Lake is the top choice for the survey respondents—as long as expanded exhibit space and additional hotel rooms are made available.
Denver is the second-highest-rated location among respondents, behind Salt Lake, but both cities face similar space and accommodation restraints. Las Vegas and Chicago are also under consideration, and these cities offer the most capacity and best infrastructure. However, they don’t have the outdoor lifestyle reputation that both Salt Lake and Denver enjoy.
Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., are also under consideration. Outdoor Retailer declined to provide specific survey results regarding city preferences among respondents.
According to Outdoor Retailer, the shows bring more than $40 million to the state each year. Aside from the economic impact, the OR shows are a boon for the state’s tourism and business recruitment efforts, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.
“We feel very strong, very good about the survey results,” Beck said, although he acknowledged that the city faces challenges in providing adequate accommodations. “It’s not an issue that’s new to us. It’s also not an issue that’s unique to OR,” he said.
"We are a size 10 foot trying to fit into a size 8 shoe in all aspects," said Lori Herrera, executive vice president of OIA, in a prepared statement. "Through the vetting process and stakeholder feedback we know there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is also clear that to continue to meet the physical needs of the show in Salt Lake City, we must have the support of the community and local and state elected officials."
Haroutunian said that state and local officials “have been amazingly accommodating, bending backwards and forwards to work with us… That being said, the city can only do so much. The city doesn’t want to build a church just for Easter Sunday,” he said.
The survey respondents didn’t seem to support compromise options like splitting the show between the Salt Palace and the South Towne Expo Center, or holding the winter show in Salt Lake but moving the larger summer show to another city.
Outdoor Retailer is awaiting recommendations from the Outdoor Industry Association, as well as further proposals from the cities under consideration. Haroutunian expects the organization will announce its final decision shortly before the 2013 winter show.
“Salt Lake has been a great home for us and we’ve really thrived there, and it’s almost unimaginable to leave,” he said.