Utah official: Tourists created more than $1B in state, local tax revenue in 2013


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's reputation as a mecca for outdoor recreation helped to deliver more than $1 billion in tourist-generated tax revenue last year, according to the state tourism director.

"It's booming," Vicki Varela, the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's like Utah is being discovered."

Utah's natural treasures mix the Rocky Mountains and deserts of the southwest, making it an attractive place for visitors and outdoor enthusiasts, Varela said. "There's really no other state that has that uncanny combination of red rock and snow," she said.

Tourism revenues last year grew about 10 percent from 2012, KSL-TV reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1nzW20g ). Local governments collected about $423 million in tax revenue while the state earned about $592 million.

Overall, tourists spent $7.5 billion in Utah last year.

At the Utah Tourism Conference in Ogden last week, Varela told representatives of the tourism and hospitality industry that the recovering economy has boosted the number of visitors to the state.

The biggest attractions remain Utah's ski resorts, five national parks and 43 state parks, Varela said.

About 4.2 million visitors came to ski in Utah last year, according to the state tourism office.

Utah's five national parks attracted 6.3 million visitors, while national monuments, recreation areas and historical sites attracted 5.2 million visitors. State parks saw about 4.1 million visitors.

More than half of Utah's international visitors last year came from six countries: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Utah hopes to harness that growth with a new campaign targeting international visitors, Varela said.

The state is hiring marketing representatives in those key countries to promote travel to Utah. Advertising campaigns will start rolling out in November, with taxi ads in London that highlight Utah's red rock parks. That will be followed by ads in Berlin touting Utah's ski slopes and an interactive trip planner to debut in Shanghai.

State officials are particularly focusing on China, with increasing numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Utah.

Varela said 2,000 tour buses of Chinese visitors came to Temple Square in Salt Lake City last year.

While tour buses and touring companies are popular with Chinese visitors, Varela said Monday that Utah is seeing more independent Chinese visitors who book their own reservations. "Everything points toward this emerging middle class in China that is now wanting to experience Utah," she said.

Besides spending and tax revenue, tourism was also responsible for about 132,000 jobs and $3.7 billion in wages last year, Utah Office of Tourism spokeswoman Emily Moench said.

Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/

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