Blog Post

Insight: A Tale of Two Utah Tourism Recoveries

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™.

It’s National Travel and Tourism week and while nearly a third of all Americans have been fully COVID-vaccinated, even more (45%) have received their first shot. As travel season nears, there is much talk about swelling savings accounts and pent-up travel demand. Although it’s difficult to know how quickly vaccinations will lead to a complete tourism industry recovery, there is a clear discrepancy between Utah’s urban and rural travel rebound rates.

First, consider airline travel, which is indicative of urban travel. Figure 1 shows total Salt Lake City airline passengers from January 2019 through March 2021. The red dots represent total international passenger shares. In March 2021, SLC International Airport recorded a healthy 36% increase in passengers from the previous month as well as the greatest number of passengers post-pandemic (a 19% year-over increase). Though an upward trend for the airlines, March 2021 passengers were still only 62% of the March 2019 passenger count. On a positive note, however, Tourism Economics and IATA analysts forecast that domestic U.S. airline travel will return to 96% of 2019 levels by the end of the year, even though international airline travel will take several more years to rebound.[1]

Figure 1: Salt Lake City International Airport Passengers, January 2019–March 2021