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Salt Lake is starting to see tourists, but hotels still hurting

FILE -- The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY— Labor Day weekend is here.  People are taking off to the mountains to camp for a socially-distanced holiday, but will tourists come to town now Salt Lake City is in the yellow phase? 

Kaitlin Eskelson, President and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, says it’s not a bad bet. “We did see a very, very high increase in visitation over July 4th and Memorial Day weekend.  In fact, over Memorial Day, Salt Lake City ranked in the top 5 cities for leisure visitation.” Eskelson thinks that this has to do with SLC being considered a safer destination during the pandemic. “Some of the harder-hit cities, New York, San Francisco, are largely still closed.”

Eskelson says Salt Lake is very much a “drive market” right now.   “People are coming from Idaho, Wyoming, California, and other places in Utah.”  She can’t say for sure how this weekend will go but hopes the looser restrictions in Salt Lake will lead tourists to in hotels downtown.  Now they can use the pools, which she says is a big deal. 

Hotels are still hurting

A report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association shows hard times for hotels across the country. It says 65% of hotels are at or below 50% occupancy, which is under the break-even threshold.

Also, 4 out of 10 hotel employees are still not working.  Eskelson says that report holds largely true here too, although there are pockets of hotels around Salt Lake County that are doing better than average. “South Valley, West Valley, the airport.  Most of that has to do with [some hotels there] having contracts with construction workers or various other corporate contracts.”  She says there is a real dire need in the hotels in the downtown area.

Those hotels now are seeing occupancy around 20 to 30% a day. Eskelson says that’s really not good. “Typically at this time of year it would be 70% plus occupancy.” 

Will Salt Lake moving to “Yellow” quell tourists concerns

Salt Lake City officially goes to the yellow phase Friday at 10 in the morning.  Eskelson thinks that this will help with consumer confidence, and relax the parameters that hotels have to operate by (like opening pools.) But she feels that only with a widely distributed vaccine will the industry see a real rebound. 


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