Blog Post

Insight: Tourism Buoys Utah’s Coal Country

By: Jennifer Leaver and Casey Hansen

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™.

Carbon and Emery Counties are considered “Coal Country” in Utah. While the region’s mines and power plants have provided economic opportunities to residents for generations, the counties are looking to diversify their economic portfolios as the energy sector pivots away from coal. In light of the recently announced expedited closures of both coal power plants in the region, as well as the release of the IPCC climate report,[i] the topic of diversifying the region’s economy is as salient as ever.

Coal Country’s tourism sector is one avenue that offers promise. In 2018, the Coal Country Synergy Team (formerly the Coal Country Strike Team) identified tourism and recreation as one of several economic growth and development opportunities in the Coal Country region. The region’s five state parks, ATV and biking trails in and around the San Rafael Swell, the “world’s largest art gallery” (Nine Mile Canyon), Historic Helper, and world-renowned rock-climbing mecca, Joe’s Valley, offer a particularly enduring draw to the region. These unique offerings differ from the popular areas in and around Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, making them great options for those looking for less crowded and more rugged outdoor experiences.

In fact, the region’s tourism sector performs relatively well compared to the rest of the state, particularly post-pandemic. While the Coal Country region experienced transient room tax (TRT) collection declines in 2020 similar to statewide trends, the region experienced TRT increases above the state average in 2021 and 2022 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percent Change in County Transient Room Tax (TRT) Collection vs. 2019 Baseline Collection