By: Jennifer Leaver
Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.
For the ninth consecutive year, Utah tourism has shined, setting record after record for increased spending, jobs, wages, tax revenue, and visitation. In fact, in early 2020 it looked as if Utah’s tourism industry was set up for its tenth consecutive record year—that is, until a global pandemic arrived and threw the industry into a tailspin. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Utah’s leisure and hospitality industry harder than any other sector. In April 2020, year-over-year leisure and hospitality job losses were 66,000, or a 43.1% decline. By August, the sector’s jobs were down 16.8% from last year—a little better, but far from ideal (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Leisure and Hospitality Employment in Utah, 2019 vs. 2020
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March 2020 immediately reversed Utah travel and tourism trends. Year-over-year leisure and hospitality sector jobs were up 7.5% in January and 8.6% in February 2020. Likewise, during the first two months of 2020, county transient room tax receipts were up 8.1%, national park visitation was up 27.3%, and state park visitation was up 19.0%. Skier/snowboarder visits at Utah resorts were also trending higher than the previous year. However, these positive trends had reversed course by April 2020.
This month, the Gardner Institute releases its annual “State of Utah’s Travel and Tourism Industry” report. This report covers travel and tourism statistics up through 2019 and includes a discussion of travel and tourism in a post-pandemic world. We found that visitors spent a record $10.06 billion in the Utah economy in 2019, supporting an estimated 141,500 jobs, and generating $1.34 billion in state and local tax revenues. To read the full report, click here. For a snapshot of Utah’s travel and tourism industry in 2019, you can find the Utah Tourism Trifold here.
Although confidence is high that the travel and tourism industry will see brighter days ahead, the reality is that it may take several years to return to 2019 levels.
Jennifer Leaver is the senior tourism analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.