Blog: From Restaurants to Retail: Spending Trends of Utah’s International Visitor Population

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Blog: From Restaurants to Retail: Spending Trends of Utah’s International Visitor Population

By: Jennifer Leaver

English. German. Mandarin. French. Japanese. Spanish. Korean.

If you’ve spent any time at one of Utah’s national parks or monuments lately, then you’ve most likely heard a mélange of languages inside the visitor centers and out on the trails. International visitors make up a healthy portion of Utah’s national park visitors. Studies show that around 20 percent—or one-fifth—of all Utah national park and monument visitors come from outside of the United States[1]. In fact, at the more popular parks like Zion and Bryce, more than 25 percent of tourist season visitors are international in origin.

Recently, Utah’s overseas visitor profiles have been changing. Based on Tourism Economics’ data, in 2015 Asian visitors for the first time spent more money in Utah than European visitors did—a trend predicted to continue (see Figure 1). Over the past few years, relaxed visa restrictions, more direct flights from Asia to the U.S., and a general shift in Asian traveler preferences have contributed to an increase in Asian visitation to the U.S.

Figure 1: Shifting Shares of International Visitor Spending

Note: (f): forecast

Source: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute analysis of Tourism Economics data.

Two of the most striking aspects of the increase in Asian visitors to Utah are spending amount and spending type. Tourism Economics’ data show a 37 percent decrease in total Utah spending by French, German, and British visitors from 2008 to 2017, while there was a 310 percent increase in spending by Chinese, South Korean, and Taiwanese visitors (see Figure 2). Tourism Economics’ data also show that Asian per-visitor spending was more than double European per-visitor spending in 2017.

Figure 2: Total Visitor Spending in Utah by Select European and Asian Visitors

Source: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimates based on aggregate depersonalized card usage data provided by VisaVue® Travel for calendar year 2017.

In addition, there were key differences in how Asian visitors spent their money in Utah compared with their European counterparts. One striking difference was the amount of money Asian visitors spent on retail purchases. Based on aggregated, depersonalized card usage data provided by VisaVue® Travel for the calendar year 2017, French, German, and British visitors spent greater shares of their total spending on lodging and food, while Chinese, South Korean, and Taiwanese visitors spent greater shares on shopping (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Share of Visa Card Spending in Utah by Category and Country of Origin, 2017

Source: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimates based on aggregate depersonalized card usage data provided by VisaVue® Travel for calendar year 2017.

Understanding shifts in Utah international visitor trends helps tourist communities, destination marketing organizations, and local businesses better plan for and cater to guests. In other words, a focus on hotels and restaurants that appeal to European guests may shift towards enhancing the general shopping experience for Asian visitors.

Jennifer Leaver is a research analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. 

[1] National Park Services’ Visitor Services Project, in collaboration with the University of Idaho’s Park Studies Unit at the College of Natural Resources and Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center conducted over 150 visitor studies at national parks and monuments between 2003 and 2017, including studies on four national parks and four national places in Utah.

2018-08-16T10:51:35+00:00August 16th, 2018|Blog, Economics and Public Policy, Travel and Tourism, Practice Areas|