Though economic times are tough, Utah’s travel and tourism leaders say the state is still seeing its fair share of tourists coming in from all corners of the world—from France to Japan to Utah’s own residents. Our panel of experts discussed some of the issues and trends the industry is facing, including corporate retreat cutbacks, decreased funding, marketing efforts and liquor law changes. And though the industry is experiencing some setbacks, cooperation efforts among the industry’s varied leaders are keeping the state’s travel and tourism industry moving toward success.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Mark White, vice president of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, for moderating the discussion, and to Holland & Hart for hosting the event.
Becky Potts, Morris Murdock Travel; Martin Lewis, Utah Business magazine; Kathleen Roberts, Christopherson Travel; Dave Hilliard, Davis Conference Center; Danny Richardson, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition; Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality; Colleen Reardon, Deer Valley Resort; Keith Griffall, Western Leisure; Bill Malone, Park City Chamber; Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah; Britt Mathwich, Homestead Resort; Scott Beck, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau; Joel Racker, Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau; Chad Linebaugh, Sundance Resort; Steve Lindburg, Hilton Salt Lake City; Mark Mundel, Red Lion Hotel; Dan Hayes, SMG; Simón Cantarero, Holland and Hart; Sara Toliver, Ogden/Weber Convention and Visitors Bureau; Mark White, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau; Leigh von der Esch, Utah Office of Tourism
How would you describe the current state of Utah’s travel and tourism industry?
RACKER: There is definitely a slowing, but it’s interesting to see that things are still moving. I was at the New York Times travel show and then I went to the LA Times show, and you would never know that things are slowing. We were running out of brochures by the end of the first day. We joked and said, “Maybe people are just getting brochures to look at so they can imagine traveling.”
There is still a desire to travel, and we know that our industry often in economic downturns can feel the pinch because of people cutting back on that discretionary spending. But for right now, we are finding that people are getting out there and traveling—we just hope it continues. We know from tax receipts and hotel occupancies that [travel] is down some, but we are cautiously optimistic.
LINDBURG: I think we have a little bit of a self fulfilling prophecy in many respects. Certainly the economy is down and it is a fact that corporations are cutting back on travel because it’s a quick way to respond to an economic downturn. But, there is still a desire for travel and there always will be. I think people feel like travel is a benefit or a facet of life that is almost owed to them. So, we’re going to continue to see people traveling, but they are being much more sensitive to price.
As an industry, we are trying to not erode our rates, but we’re trying to find ways of adding value or positioning our product so that people have a comfort with buying. Things are soft, but it’s part of the cycle and we are currently on the downward side. The other side is that there is always that upward curve that will come afterwards. If we focus on that, we’re going to be just fine as we work through it.
HILLIARD: [The Davis Conference Center] is a smaller conference center, but we are feeling the slowing. People are still coming, they are just being slower to make the commitment and they are spending down. They are being more careful in how many days they are spending, how much money they are spending.
RAFFERTY: One of the nice things about Utah is if you are a skier and come here on vacation there are all sorts of variations. Utah has Deer Valley on one end of the spectrum and Alta on another—two areas that are tops in their own separate categories. We are seeing many different things. If you look at the business we’ve had certain weekends, you would not think there was a recession. Our clientele are enthusiasts, and they are going to follow the snow. We have the best snow in North America right now, so things are looking pretty good. But, we’re also coming off five years of record seasons and, you know, if you win the Super Bowl every year for five years and you lose by three points in the last quarter and you end up in second place, it seems like a big letdown sometimes. But, I’m still really optimistic. At the end of the day, we are going to do better than we thought we were coming into the season.
MALONE: So far this winter, we are probably tracking somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent off of our numbers from last year from a visitation standpoint in terms of overnight visitors. I think the real challenge is that everyone is extremely price sensitive. People are booking really close in, so it’s hard to get a picture of the future. Everybody knows there are deals out there and everybody is asking for deals. And there are all sorts of deals—you can find anything from “buy three nights, get the fourth night free,” to “buy one night, get the second night free.”
So while we may be down 10 to 15 percent in occupancy, we are going to be down significantly more than that in revenue as a community, mainly because the biggest chunk of the revenue spent on someone’s ski vacation is lodging. Lodging is, in fact, being discounted anywhere between 25 and 50 percent. So it will be a challenge for us, because we are going to have fewer dollars to market with next year.
Is that a trend that is happening across the state—that people are waiting until the last minute to book their lodgings in order to get the best deal?
RAFFERTY: If there was one trend of the whole year, it would be short-term booking. So, you can take your pacing reports from the last five or 10 years and just pitch them out the window because you just don’t know until a few days before what your number is going to be.
BECK: Not only that, but I think it’s kind of “A Tale of Two Cities.” What we are seeing in the big box convention business is that there are people shopping. There are people buying. We have come off of our second biggest year in the 25 years of our bureau in 2008. And that wasn’t just the first six months. The last six months were also very, very busy. People are recognizing that there are deals to be had, so they are shopping now and securing those dates in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. It is a trend that I think bodes well for an area like Salt Lake, specifically because we have the infrastructure and we have the large big box convention business. Utah has been perceived as conservative from a value perspective, and that is actually boding pretty well for us right now that we are getting people to engage.
But again, it’s a tale of two cities. We have the big, long range bookings, but then the short range corporate bookings—the trend is very, very last minute. And the corporate market is where we are seeing the biggest hit—corporate travel in the hotels, corporate meetings—that is where the big gap is.
MALONE: In Park City, we are being affected on the incentive travel side. With companies that are part of the recovery program and getting federal dollars, they are pulling back in terms of luxurious meetings. And, it’s a challenge for some of our properties that have built those relationships with the AIGs and other companies—those properties have had to watch that business go away this year.
REARDON: [Deer Valley Resort] doesn’t own or operate any lodging, so the discounting is not affecting us as much as it is some of our partners. But the 10, 15 percent down range is certainly where we are on our skier visitation. However, we’re coming off five or six years of record growth, so you take the good with the bad.
Our business philosophy right now is maybe a little different than others in that we are not cutting back on staffing or servicing. We are cementing our brand right now. We want to make sure that we keep providing that level of service and the vacation experience that people expect. And it’s going to be a hit to us, but we feel like in the long run it’s going to pay off because we are not eroding our brand by doing something differently than we have in the past.
ROBERTS: Christopherson Travel mainly represents business, but some of that is in bound and a lot out bound, so our numbers are softer for most customers. We especially see it down in the areas of state government, universities—those types of areas are the ones that are most down. But, we also have several customers who are up. We have at least eight or nine venture capital companies who are traveling like crazy. Everything is on sale, so they’ve got to get out there and buy it.
HILLIARD: [The Davis Conference Center] is in a pocket that feels very comfortable right now. We are up by Hill Air Force Base, so a lot of aerospace companies are still doing a lot of corporate business, so a lot of things are still happening. People are still looking for ways to enjoy their hobbies and enjoy life even in a recession. We are also coming up with ways to be smart in this industry and create some new opportunities.
POTTS: With the deals that are happening right now, more and more folks are coming to us for their professional travel experience. You can go online and perhaps you can get a deal, but a great experience is important. So, we are seeing more and more people who come to us because, even though they like to deal, they also want to be able to make sure it’s a great experience.
GRIFFALL: Utah has a pretty big ad-vantage from tourism over people who are actually at that base level that have assets in place and can’t really change. Utah can change our product to fit the needs, and it gives us a lot of flexibility. And I think that is where the travel this year and next year is going, so we need to find those products that people are interested in.
If we look at Utah as a whole, are there parts of the state that are doing better than others from a tourism perspective based on the product they offer?
RICHARDSON: Southern Utah is doing very well. Our national parks are world famous. Our snow is also world famous. So, there is a lot of foreign travel coming to the state. People in general are taking trips, but they are maybe taking slightly shorter trips and they are spending slightly less. So, instead of the upper-priced restaurant, they are in the medium priced restaurant. They are still coming and spending, but they are being a little more careful.
von der Esch: Last summer, Southern Utah was trending 40 percent higher in visitation despite $4 gallon gas, mostly because of international travel. International tourists made a difference throughout the summer. I heard from one property that 74 percent of its advanced bookings were from Europe.
TOLIVER: In northern Utah, we are seeing a lot of foreign people visiting us, too. We are still a little less known, but they are starting to hear about us. We don’t have the luxurious slope-slide lodging, but we’ve got great downtown accommodations, and you can get to the mountain in 20 minutes. So we’re trying to target some of the smaller meetings that will fit into our conference center that are shying away from the Park City spending stigma and coming to Ogden because it’s not associated with us there.
What about lodging? Are people switching from the more expensive hotels to the budget-focused hotels?
LINDBURG: The power of brands is being tested in a lot of ways. There are people who identify with vendors or providers that they like to be associated with, and price is now eroding a little bit on that. Loyalty goes only as far as your wallet or pocketbook goes. But, there is still value in knowing what you are getting. If you have had a great experience with one brand, you will probably give them a shot instead of taking a risk with somebody new.
RAFFERTY: The Utah ski industry is positioned really well in the value category because we have so many resorts that are so close to each other. There is no Motel 6 in Aspen, but in Utah we have metropolitan cities—like Salt Lake City or Ogden—that other destinations simply don’t have.
LINEBAUGH: Value and market changes are important. There is a group that has been going to a high end luxury property in Aspen for the last 14 years that we just booked at Sundance two weeks ago. They are coming in August, and it’s exciting to land a group like that after they have been dedicated to one property for 14 years. A big part of it has to do with value. Utah is positioned well for value because value is what you are getting for what you are paying.
Perception is another issue. We have too many situations where we’ve had groups cancel, and they have flat out told us it’s not because they don’t have the money; it simply is because of the perception. And that is even more challenging because you want to say, “Still come.”
MALONE: And they will pay the same in another market. It just won’t have that perception.
What changes have you seen in corporate travel and retreats?
GRIFFALL: Corporate travel is obviously difficult. [Western Leisure] deals with a lot of in-bound international markets, which raises two issues. One issue is short-term bookings, which everybody has talked about. The other is lift. Are there going to be airline seats available to get the people here that want to come here and at a price that they can afford?
Overall, I think Utah is well positioned to take advantage of our reputation for good value. We have scenery that is world-class, and we are actually in the center of what a lot of people want to see in the United States. Whether we can get [tourists] here and whether we can make it affordable is probably up to us. Being a little creative and hanging in there is going to be helpful.
We’ve been talking a lot about incentive travel and perception, and that’s been around for years. We have people who have paid a lot more for taking regular sedans rather than limos which would have been more efficient, because of perception. So though perception is changing, I don’t believe that corporate travel is going away. We as a company are increasing our marketing. And, we are also networking more. We know that we are going to have to get out to the customers and make sure that we continue to get them.
REARDON: It’s almost like 2001 revisited—there was a fear of terrorism and traveling and air travel except that now it’s the fear of the economy. People are asking, “Am I going to have the money?”
GRIFFALL: I’d say the problem here is we are not sure there is going to be an end yet. We’re not sure where the end is going to be. We are traveling to more trade shows. And I think the difference between associations and corporate is a real benefit to Salt Lake or Utah perhaps in general—to all the counties around here. But, I think Utah is going to see a real upswing in smaller business meetings in places that are easy to get to and are not as expensive. The really expensive hotels and meeting centers will probably have some issues.
ROBERTS: One thing that Utah really benefits from is the Salt Lake International Airport. Over the last three years, U.S. Airlines has pulled out of 200 rural markets and that has made a significant difference, but we are not dealing with that here. The state’s air service is increasing. The Northwest Delta merger will increase service into our market, and that really benefits everyone. But, there are plenty of airports around the U.S. that have service, but on such a limited basis. That’s something that we really don’t have to face too much here, in Utah.
GRIFFALL: The direct Tokyo flight couldn’t come at a better time, because right now the yen is extremely strong, which is very helpful as an in bound or an export market, which tourism is. And, it could really be a bright spot in what probably is not going to be the brightest year.
WILKINSON: Utah is perfectly positioned with value and everything else, but I agree that marketing is key. Now is the time to market and get the word out there. And the interest in this area or this region is very high, and it will continue to be high, especially with international travel.
RACKER: I think we are going to see more people stay close to home. There is an anniversary this year of the creation of the national parks and there is huge interest in the five national parks down in Southern Utah. Last year, attendance to state parks as a whole dropped some, but three of our parks, the national monument and the two state parks in Utah Valley actually had increases last year. I don’t know if it’s the “stay cations” or people choosing to stay a little bit closer to home.
Where we as destination marketing associations are going to suffer is if the tax revenues are down. If they go down, we are going to have to do more with less. We are going to have to get more creative to market. But we also need to take advantage of those “stay cations” and what this state has to offer residents.
BECK: Next year and the next couple of years, we’re going to be in a situation where as much as we want to do more marketing, we are going to have less resources, and not just a little less resources, but a lot less resources. I think it behooves us to be extremely creative and look at those ways where we can take advantage of this opportunity we have. From a product perspective, this is the only time that I can remember in history where our image may be a benefit. So, how do we take the state’s image and leverage it with a lot less? From a destination marketing organization that is funded from tax revenue, we are going to have a lot less tax revenue. And how do we take that and how do we get creative? How do we get those partnerships and those alliances? How do we leverage every asset that we have to make sure we are getting the biggest bang for our buck, because we do have a product that is posed for greatness, so how do we move to the next level?
How is the state doing regarding conventions, trade shows and conferences? Are we attracting exhibitors to the state? And, are these events being attended?
HAYES: Right now is our busy public show season—it’s when all of our traditional shows occur, including the home show, the boat show, the RV show. Those events have been down anywhere from maybe 10 to 30 percent in terms of attendance. What I’m hearing from exhibitors is that they are still happy. Folks who had cash 12 months ago still have cash and are still buying. The folks who were living on credit obviously are not buying on credit anymore, and I think that is where some of the decline is.
Relatively speaking, though, what is significant and positive for Utah is that these shows travel, mostly regionally, but also nationally, and while the shows may be down 10, 15, 20 percent in Utah, they are light years ahead of where they are in Southern California or in Phoenix, Arizona. So that is positive.
POTTS: We just had our Morris Murdock Travel Show at the South Towne Expo Center, and we had 25 percent more attendees this year than ever before and booked as much business as we ever have done before. So, we were really up this year, which was fantastic.
HAYES: And we have had some market segments show increases similar to that one, but also those events where your exhibitors are selling maybe lower dollar items, craft shows, those things. We’ve seen attendance be 10 or 20 percent up, especially in the fourth quarter of last year. So, it really is mixed.
BECK: Meeting Planners International, the world’s largest organization of professional meeting planners with 25,000 members worldwide, has selected Salt Lake as the home for its world education conference in July. A phrase that has been used to describe this conference is that it could do for the state’s convention and meetings industry what the 2002 Winter Olympics did for the snow sports industry.
Beyond that, Barbara Riddle from the Davis County Convention and Visitors Bureau had an idea to create an organization called Meet in Utah. This organization brings together seven convention and visitors bureaus from around the state that are leveraging their combined resources and branding and other elements alongside the Utah Office of Tourism. It’s been an opportunity for us to really show that Utah is a state that really understands this industry. And even more than that, we, in Utah, think out of the box and do things differently.
We are obviously hoping to take advantage of [MPI being in Utah]. It’s going to be interesting to see, coming off the heels of last year’s meeting in Las Vegas, to Salt Lake. Again, a great juxtaposition that we think is going to play to our favor and not to our detriment—we’re optimistic about it. It’s going to be at a time where travel is going to be down, so hopefully this meeting will work. We’re hoping that the tagline, which is “We Meet Because it’s in our Nature,” will drive the point home that this is what we do—that Utah is a great place to meet because of so many different reasons.
There was a great analogy given at the winter meeting, and it was the idea that we are somehow an industry that doesn’t really get its due. We are an industry that is larger than the automotive industry. And here is this stimulus plan being discussed to get the Big Three automotive giants out of a situation, and in the same stimulus plan, there is legislation that is negatively impacting our industry—legislation that is putting restrictions on travel. Hopefully we can get through a lot of that and get back to this idea that travel and tourism meetings are an integral part of our nation’s economy. I think we can weather the storm and get to that point where meetings can take their rightful seat at the table. And I think that is one of the reasons we are so excited about the Salt Lake MPI. It really puts that “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval on our destination as a bona fide destination for meetings and conventions.
MUNDEL: Utah is in a great position. Some people might think that Utah doesn’t have a whole lot of frills and can’t compete with major markets like San Francisco or New Orleans or Las Vegas, but here we are just treading along with no wild swings, while those places are really suffering. I think MPI is going to be thrilled to death to come here and experience what Utah has to offer.
MALONE: I think all of us see the different strengths in terms of around the state, different communities, different regions, and we don’t necessarily look at each other as competitors; we look at us as compatriots. When we put all that together and we can go to an organization like MPI and say, you know, you have these communities to the north and south and east and west of Salt Lake City as part of the package, I think it speaks well for us.
GRIFFALL: What MPI really does for Salt Lake City and the surrounding counties is bring a lot of notoriety, as well as business, to rural Utah. And, the travel to rural Utah is really important to the communities. I hope that many [legislators and business leaders] from rural Utah realize just how important travel is to their communities. And it is one thing that we have done very well in Utah and that the legislators have done—they have really gone out and marketed the state and are continuing to do so even in very difficult financial times.
I hate to pick on Nevada, but it is going through a terrible time. From a tourism marketing standpoint, its entire tourism marketing machine is being dismantled. I think we are very fortunate to have people at the legislature level as well as within this industry who have not only done a very creative job of marketing the state but have gotten behind it and pushed marketing forward.
How are you going to market your products during these hard times?
LINDBURG: The State Legislature has supported the marketing the state of Utah over past few years, and there has been remarkable return on investment. For every dollar that the state has invested, we’re seeing about $17 worth of tax money generated back for the state. So, it is important to recognize that the state’s success is because of the raised visibility the state of Utah has had over the last three years.
It’s tough in an economic market like this to continue to fund it at the level we’ve been at, but the marketing campaign needs to continue for all of our sakes. Though there’s been a cut, the dollars [from the State Legislature] have a real history of generating positive revenue streams and tax generation for the state as a whole. And the nonstop flights to Paris and Japan are really, really timely. The load factor on the Paris flight has surprised everybody, including Delta [Airlines]. And, that is one of the reasons why the Japan flight is getting so much support and has moved as quickly as it has. There is something inherently enticing about Utah and the national parks and the gateway community of Salt Lake to an awful lot of world travelers. And, we really do need to maintain the funding to the Utah Office of Tourism to continue that success.
As an industry in the state of Utah, we need a forum that includes all of the folks that are associated with travel and tourism. There have been glimmers of a forum in the past. We need to come together so we can show how much of an [economic] impact we are on the state.
RACKER: In places like Park City, the total economy lives and dies on tourism; people get that tourism does a lot of the economy. But, people need to realize that that sales tax revenue being generated from conventions and conferences in Salt Lake and other cities—about 50 percent is going back to the state coffers and then divvied up based on population for communities. So communities are getting that tax relief and benefit from those things that are happening next door, not necessarily right in our own backyard.
As an industry, we need to do a better job of getting the word out, whether it’s to our legislators or in our communities. We need to communicate the value of tourism even in markets where the economy is very diversified and tourism may not be a key or a significant player.
WHITE: It’s my perspective that our industry is at least on the radar of community leaders, at least when compared to a few years ago. We aren’t in the center of the radar, but I certainly get the impression that we are going in the right direction.
RACKER: I think there was a lesson learned after the 2002 Winter Olympics and that was that the Winter Olympics was not the answer to everything. It was great for the state, but it won’t carry us on forever. Marketing needs to keep going.
What’s next for “Life Elevated,” the state’s marketing campaign?
LINDBURG: We have just started our non-winter campaign, which will run on television nationally, as well as in three spot markets in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver. We are purchasing ad insertions in 13 publications on the print side, and then there is an interactive campaign online with a collection of banner ads, interactive ads and positioning ads. The interesting part now, and the one thing that is working well for us in the economy, is that your television ad buy dollars and all of your media ad buy dollars are going much farther than they were, both in terms of price per thousand, which is lower, but also the add ons. There are value added pieces that most publishers and broadcasters are willing to add to entice you to buy. So this is going to be a very expansive campaign.
RACKER: The ad campaign, whether it is Park City’s ad or the state’s, has been a success. I’ve had more people come up to us and say, “I’ve seen your spots. We definitely are going to get out there.” I am pleased with the cooperation between the Utah Office of Tourism and the DMOs that has enabled us to get further reach for our marketing dollars.
WHITE: A lot more money and effort has been placed in creating media awareness in not just ads, but creating articles in the various lifestyle publications that carry so much more credibility.
RACKER: In USA Today there was a full page dedicated to Snow Basin and Powder Mountain, which is awesome. It’s a real positive for the state.
RAFFERTY: Public relations is just one of those things that really shines when you have cooperation. You cannot do it all by yourself. If Brighton Resort wants to have a PR campaign just about Brighton, it just doesn’t work that well, because the articles that you see are about the Ogden Valley resorts. It’s about more than just one resort. It’s all born from cooperation and it results in a huge return on investment with limited funds. It’s a lot of elbow grease and making relationships, but it’s really paying off for the state.
LINEBAUGH: If you look at Ski magazine, it had a cover story on Snow Basin, and the issue before that had a cover story on Deer Valley, and the issue before that had a cover story on Sundance.
RAFFERTY: And it’s not because Utah is spending the most money in Ski magazine. Another great example of cooperation is the Quick Start program that Park City has. Can you imagine a destination in Colorado, other than a Vail resort, trying to pull together three separate resorts where they are giving away skiing? It wouldn’t happen anywhere else. And I can’t tell you how many times I hear people come up to me and say, “Now, what is that deal with your lift ticket where you get to go ski for free?”
von der Esch: The partnerships have been important. We’ve got good partners doing good work. The challenge is that we’ve got to continue working together to get the brand out. We’re better positioned than other states because we have such beautiful national parks and state parks.
MALONE: I think the Utah Office of Tourism has done an exceptional job in allowing us to work well with one another. And I think a key ingredient was the co-op program. It brings everybody to the table and allows us to foster relationships and to cooperate with one another.
MATHWICH: Heber Valley has benefited so much from the co-op program, and we are a much smaller market with a really very limited marketing budget. So, having those co-op funds available has been tremendous for us.
RACKER: It’s enabled the public dollars on a state level to combine with the DMOs and then to combine with private dollars. This collaboration allows us to reach out there where none of us could on our own. And it’s been really very successful in Utah Valley, maybe not to the same level as Ski Utah or Park City, but we definitely got our fair share considering the size of our budgets.
What do you think about the change in liquor laws? How will the laws impact Utah’s travel and tourism industry?
LINDBURG: [The new liquor laws] will have a bigger impact than we are giving it credit for. It’s been a long time coming, and I think that we all have acknowledged that it has been a source of image problems throughout the country and probably throughout the world. When we took a look at lost business reports, we saw companies and groups that would fit very well and were comfortable with the hotel complement in town and all the rest of it—but they decided to go somewhere outside of Utah many times. They would choose to go somewhere else based on comments like “entertainment” or “fun.” But, what we are really talking about is the [alcohol] issue. And, it’s one of just being more normal about things. It’s not about being more lenient or encouraging access or that sort of thing. It’s just a matter of essentially treating adults like adults. And, I think it’s a remarkable move on the State Legislature’s part. I didn’t really think this would happen.
BECK: Over the years, the travel and tourism industry has spent a lot battling this. I think it’s a real double edged sword. When we talk about [the new liquor laws], I think people automatically assume we want to look like Las Vegas, that we want everybody to have a 42 ounce margarita with a long straw walking around the streets of Park City. That’s not really what we mean. This is about adults acting like adults—it’s not about having a 42 ounce margarita while walking on the street. It’s about going out and socializing and having what you consider to be a normal part of your networking available. I’m a glass half full, optimistic-type guy. I didn’t think we would be here yet, so I’m thankful that the business community and the economic development community here in Utah said that the liquor laws were an issue. It took the business and economic communities to come together to get the laws changed.
Do you think the current economic climate had an influence on state legislators when they considered changing the liquor laws?
BECK: I don’t think it had any bearing. I think if you look at Governor Huntsman who has come out and said from the day he announced his candidacy that travel and tourism was on his radar screen as one of his economic points, and he has said from every point we need to be a more open society. He talks and champions the idea that Utah is part of a global economy. We are not just part of the Wasatch Front economy. Governor Huntsman really views us as part of a global economy, and that is invaluable. I don’t believe any of this has to do with the economy and looking for more revenue streams, because the dialogue is still out here. The dialogue is still not about the economy—the dialogue is about the social issues. And, it’s about realizing that the dialogue isn’t always, “It’s those darn tourism people again wanting the 42 ounce margaritas on the streets of Salt Lake.” I think it is a different dynamic now.
What issues do you think Utah’s travel and tourism industry will face in the coming months and into 2010?
BECK: Our biggest competition is not ourselves. Our biggest competition is Colorado. It’s Disneyland. It’s the cruise industry. It’s not Park City versus Salt Lake City. We have an opportunity as a brand to come together and benefit all of the private businesses that rely on this. It is not about competing with each other. It’s about competing with other parts of the segment.
LINDBURG: I think people not only want the price to be right, what they really want is the experience. I think, as an industry, we need to look at our operations—we need to examine our communities, our hotels, our restaurants and verify that we are providing great service and that we are leaving a lasting impression on people who visit Utah. It’s one thing to get people here, it’s another to win them and to have them become ambassadors for Utah as they go back home. And certainly the expectation nationwide is that part of value for your dollar is feeling like people appreciated you, and that is a critical element for us. If we want to make sure that we bounce back out of these hard times, we need to be providing a product, a service level and experience that people take home with them. We will be down double digits compared to 2008 as an industry, but we can mitigate that by marketing now, taking care of the guests that we have now, making sure we are investing in our operations and our communities so that people want to come back when things loosen up a little bit.
GRIFFALL: I think this is a great opportunity for Utah because I think tourism is going to turn inward a little bit this coming year, perhaps into the next year. Domestic travel is going to be up. I think people are looking for value for their dollar, and staying within the United States is going to be a good value. We have the opportunity to get them here. We have a great marketing program and we want to continue that. But in the end, if they come here and have a great experience, it’s going to be the best marketing opportunity Utah has for a lot of years. So we need to make sure that we give tourists that level of service. And that’s one of the benefits about our industry—in tourism we can make our product a lot better without spending more money on it, we just have to train our people better. Overall, it’s real important that we improve our image, our services and make Utah the greatest experience for those who visit. And it already is, but we can certainly improve. Let’s take advantage of this great market of people who are looking to travel and looking to see what they don’t know about.
CANTARERO: Now let’s go ski.