March 13, 2013

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Travel & Tourism

March 13, 2013

Throughout the state, are we seeing people staying longer and spending more while they are here?

LINEBAUGH: At Sundance, we have seen an increase in destination weddings. We have always had a lot of weddings in Utah, but now we are seeing large destination weddings. These are people who can be married anywhere in the world, but they are choosing to come here to Utah because of the unique experience they can get, and they want it to have that feel.

ANDERSON: These changes that we are seeing in our visitors are definitely, at least partially in rural Utah, due to the fact that we have first-class properties now, where, candidly, 20 years ago we did not have first-class properties in the rural or even the national park areas.

When the Japanese tourists first started coming, again close to 20 years ago, one of the biggest challenges in servicing that market was actually providing food that they would enjoy. Sticky rice, for example, at Ruby’s Inn right outside of Bryce Canyon was difficult to come by. But Ruby’s stepped up to the plate and delivered beautifully.

Over the ensuing years we have seen dramatic changes in our ability to properly service international visitors from an amenity perspective, and all of the finer things that those travelers have come to expect. We have delivered and we have gone beyond their expectations.

Nan, you may have a unique perspective in determining if the product statewide is meeting demands. Or are we still trying to catch up? I know that’s an ongoing process, but are we keeping up?

ANDERSON: We are close. We certainly had massive amounts of investment in both infrastructure and capital improvements. We are getting there. Back in the mid ‘90s, you had to book national park accommodations a year in advance if you were a group and wanted a certain number of facilities available. I think we are keeping up there. You are going to see a lot more capital improvements come on line in the next few years as we get through more of the recovery from the economic standstill.

As Alta, the nation’s second-oldest ski resort, enjoys its 75th birthday how are things from your perspective?

MARSHALL: We are obviously very fortunate that this is a more typical Utah winter, thankfully statewide, which is good news for us. And fortunate, or maybe not fortunate, that most of Colorado isn’t doing very well. At the end of the day, that does hurt us because typically skiers identify the Colorado skiing product as a barometer for the West. If they are getting a sense that there’s no snow in the West, that may affect us.

We have been blessed with an overwhelming local response to this first portion of the winter. Suffering a little bit still in some of the destination numbers through Christmas. Bookings now are much stronger for the heart of the winter, which is a typical Alta story. But while it was a wonderful start, we are still recovering from the economy and some memories of last winter for a ski area that built its reputation on snow.

Over the past five years or so, has the mix of your skiers changed dramatically?

MARSHALL: The past five years, it hasn’t. But in the past 15 years we have gone from 65 to 70 percent local as our ski population to really a 50/50 split. We are thrilled, because we are being discovered as more of a destination area. Obviously those skiers tend to spend more and their story goes back to other parts of the country and is told to the right people.

RAFFERTY: The international numbers have picked up a little bit. In part that is due to a maturing of our product over the last 10, 11 years. The Grand America, the second true luxury product in the state, opened in 2001. Before that, it was the Stein Eriksen Lodge for the entire state. Now you’ve got Stein, Grand America, the Waldorf, St. Regis, Montage and Amangiri down south. And the bulk of those arrived in the last five years.

BECK: You don’t build a Montage or a Grand America for the Olympics. Neither do you build a Grand America or a Montage for a ski season. You build it because there is a viable business opportunity here. That, in and of itself, is oftentimes lost on us in the industry—that these aren’t built for a winter season. These are year-round opportunities for people. And business people are looking at Utah and saying, “I want to invest there.”

WILLIAMS: And a lot of those hotels were built right in the middle of the recession. The economy was not in a good situation nationwide, and they still saw the opportunity here and built at that time.

Discuss how the travel and tourism industry impacts the economy—from bringing conventions here to helping businesses relocate to the state.

BECK: That is more than just folklore. Fidelity Investment is in Salt Lake largely because of the ski industry. A very important senior vice president loved to come and ski and got a home out here, and eventually wanted to spend more time here. And that’s real.

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