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Utah’s tourism industry declined rapidly in 2020, taking a hit

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah’s tourism industry generated over $1 billion in tax revenue last year. Although the final receipts have not come in yet, it’s highly unlikely 2020 will match that number. 

A new report from the University of Utah showed attendance at national parks is down 25%. 

Utah Director of Tourism Vicki Varela said a big reason why is because international tourism has almost ground to a halt. It has also had a downstream effect on the hotels and restaurants that serve tourists. 

“International visitation…was down about 85% this year, and our international visitors are higher spending,” Varela reported. 

They also tend to stay longer. 

But that is not the biggest trouble the industry has had this year. 

“The most devastated part of our entire industry is our urban areas that have convention centers. There are eight convention districts around the state, Salt Lake is the biggest one,” Varela says. “Obviously, people are just not going to meetings and conventions right now.” 

The University of Utah report shows air travel at Salt Lake City International Airport dropped 85% between March and September 2020, though that has started to pick up. 

Even so, businesses are feeling the impact of fewer visitors. 

“We have downtown hotels that are really on the border of whether they’ll be able to survive all this,” Varela said. 

She believes Utah’s tourism industry will not fully recover until 2024. 

However, Varela is also optimistic about the future. 

The Governor’s Office has committed $8 million in CARES Act funding to promote Utah tourism. 

There have also been large numbers of people road-tripping to state and national parks in Utah this year. 

“We’ve really focused on Utahns taking to the road and then visitors from surrounding states. [We’ve had a] lot of visitors from California, and that had helped to create a modest cushion,” Varela said.