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Salt Lake convention and tourism industries hit hard, but improving

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a year since Salt Lake has really hosted any events at the Salt Palace Convention Center. A huge blow to the city’s bottom line. 

The Salt Palace opened in 1996 and has been the host to thousands of conventions over the years bringing in large amounts of visitors and revenue. It sat quiet for the past year, hurting not only the convention center but also all the businesses depending on convention-goers in Salt Lake City. 

Salt Lake convention business hurt by pandemic

Mark White, senior vice president of Visit Salt Lake spoke with KSL-TV.

“The whole idea is that we bring people here, they spend their money at our hotels, our restaurants, our attractions. They go away leaving their money behind.”

The convention center shutting its doors and canceling virtually all events has created a huge economic void.

White talked to KSL-TV inside the convention center.

“I really don’t recall the last group that was here,” he said. “It has been a very big problem.”

White estimates canceled events add up to about $360 million in losses. That doesn’t count the other lost revenue of around $971 each visitor spends on average at attractions, hotels, and restaurants during their visit to Salt Lake City. 

There have been tough times before for the convention center.

“2008-2009 was tough,” he elaborated, “but there’s been nothing remotely near this.”

Big business for SLC

Conventions and tourism are big business, bringing $9.5 billion to Utah in 2019.

“I think few people are aware of the size and impact of the visitor economy,” White said. “It is of key importance that we get this back up and running for all of the folks in Salt Lake and the rest of the state.” 

White is relieved to see signs there are things to look forward to finally. 

“Things are looking up,” White said.

Hope for the future

In Gov. Spencer Cox’s Thursday news conference, Cox stated he believes the state is still on track to lift all restrictions by July 1. Many of the counties are already opened up, and with more availability of vaccines and the COVID numbers dropping this is bringing confidence to many. 

“I think we have a lot of reason to be optimistic,” White said.

There are many events on the books already in the coming months and years. This includes big conventions at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Coming right up are conventions in June and August of this year. 

White is cautiously optimistic, saying these bookings are still a fraction of the business they were doing prior to a year ago.

More changes in store

He expects there will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual events.

“I believe we will see some permanent changes,” he said.

Convention planners debated for years whether to move conventions to a virtual format. The events of the past year may put that talk into action. White expects conventions will be different going forward; now there will be an option to attend in person or virtually. 

White said the Salt Palace has a new broadcast studio, which postures them ahead of many other cities to provide not only an in-person experience but also a superior virtual experience as well.  

More on the subject:

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