UMC Links

County-Wide Tourism Remained Strong in 2013

Hikers enjoying a break at Jeep Arch in Grand County.

August 6, 2014 — Whether enjoying the arches in Grand County, boating the turquoise waters of Bear Lake in Rich County, exploring the sandstone kingdoms of Washington County or skiing the powdery slopes of Summit County, tourists visited every county in Utah in 2013. Those visits propelled economic activity, according to research recently published by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, or BEBR, at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

BEBR published 29 travel and tourism county profiles, each of which provides the county’s statewide ranking, attractions and visitation, a table and charts depicting trends in tourism-related tax revenues, taxable sales, employment, wages and hotel-performance measures. In addition, BEBR created a document ranking Utah counties by share of leisure and hospitality employment to total employment and a profile comparing Utah to the rest of the country.

“Each of Utah’s 29 counties has something unique to offer visitors,” said Jennifer Leaver, BEBR research analyst. “In 2013, every county in Utah showed percent increases from the previous year in at least one tourism-related area, while Box Elder, Cache, Daggett, Duchesne, Grand, Iron, Rich, Utah and Washington counties experienced year-over percent increases in all reviewed tourism-related areas.”

Based on Utah State Tax Commission, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Utah Department of Workforce Services and Smith Travel Research data, Leaver found that Utah’s counties experienced the greatest year-over increases in tourism-related tax revenues and taxable sales, modest year-over increases in leisure and hospitality jobs and wages, and slight growth in hotel-performance measures.

When taking tourism-related tax revenues, taxable sales, employment, wages and hotel performance into consideration, Rich, Utah, Washington, Wasatch and Davis counties showed the greatest cumulative year-over increases, while Carbon, Uintah, San Juan, Juab and Weber showed year-over decreases or flat performance.  Washington, Utah, Iron, Wasatch-Summit and Beaver counties showed the greatest year-over improvement in hotel-performance measures, whereas Carbon-Uintah, Weber, Emery, San Juan and Garfield showed year-over declines or little change.  Salt Lake, Utah and Grand counties had the highest annual average occupancy rates and Summit-Wasatch, Grand and Salt Lake had the highest average daily room rates in 2013.

Utah showed positive year-over increases in almost all tourism-related areas, including tax revenues (8.5 percent), taxable sales (6.0 percent), leisure and hospitality jobs and wages (4.1 percent and 5.5 percent), total skier visits (3.6 percent), hotel performance indicators (0.2 to 2.9 percent) and Salt Lake City International airline passengers.  The only statewide tourism-related indicator that showed year-over declines was national park visitation. According to the 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects report, the long-term park closures due to Hurricane Sandy damage from October 2012 through July 2013 and the government shutdown in October 2013 significantly contributed to the visitation decline.

“The government shutdown was unfortunate, but 2013 was still a strong year for tourism in Utah,” said Natalie Gochnour, an associate dean at the David Eccles School of Business. “The state benefitted from strong tourism growth rates that created economic opportunity throughout the state. The Utah economy is larger and more prosperous because of this important industry.”

In order to make the best possible comparison between Utah’s 29 counties, especially considering the complexity of the tourism industry, Leaver focused on leisure and hospitality sector data (arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations and food service) as it was the most complete and available county-wide data.

“Deciding the best way to compare and present the data was a challenge.” said Leaver. “Particularly because while something like restaurant sales is a good indicator of tourist activity in smaller, more rural Utah counties, it is not the best indicator of tourist activity in the more diverse, urban areas like Salt Lake and Utah Counties, where the majority of restaurant sales are made by local residents.”

BEBR’s travel and tourism county profiles can be found here.