Opinion: Utah’s tourism ripple effect

Last month, Natalie Randall assumed the role of the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film. The previous director, Vicki Varela, retired after an unparalleled run of prosperity, including overcoming incredibly unique challenges over the last decade.

Our goal and vision of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film is to attract intentionally prepared visitors to have an unforgettable experience in our great state. We can make a difference by helping prospective visitors plan better, understand how to recreate responsibly and visit with intent — supporting local economies, and ensuring their experience meets and exceeds their expectations.

Tourism boosts Utah’s economic success

Utah has one of, if not the best, economies in the country. Tourism is a major reason why. Tourism plays a significant role in Utah’s economic success. Recent data from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute shows visitors spent a record $11.98 billion in Utah in 2022, generating 98,600 direct travel-related jobs and $1.37 billion in direct state and local tax revenue.

A visitor economy provides a means for improvements to our state and our communities. Every year, visitors contribute millions of dollars, expanding Utah’s outdoor recreation infrastructure by paying hotel taxes and adding to the quality and variety of dining options, community events and improved accessibility to local amenities.

With our blend of unique rural and urban areas and unparalleled access to adventure, it’s no wonder the Wasatch Front and our national parks — two very distinct experiences — top the list for economic impact and visitation.

Investing in tourism supports rural Utah

Natalie knows firsthand how vital tourism is at all six corners of the state, having lived in San Juan County. In rural Utah, future generations are considered the No. 1 “export,” as people grow up and leave in pursuit of opportunities. The tourism industry brought Natalie to Monticello after she married a Utahn who left home and returned to start a small guiding outfit, continuing the family tradition of living off the land.

Investing in tourism pays off dividends for all Utahns, especially in rural Utah. The visitor economy allows Utah natives and those returning to fulfill their dreams and improve their quality of life wherever they call home.

Garfield County resident and business owner Tari Cottam shared, “Tourism is a ripple effect. If you bring nice things in, more nice things are going to come.”

The Cottam family, who runs the Canyon Country Lodge near Bryce Canyon National Park, is dedicated to showing guests the best Utah experience possible and has improved the lives of the entire community around them. The Cottams are a shining example of the positive impact of a strong visitor economy.

We welcome people to experience our unparalleled outdoor landscapes and communities, help them find the right accommodations, serve them meals, and guide them to inspiring places. Tourism is the business of hospitality.

Tourism improves the lives of Utahns

Whether you’re a lifelong resident or a more recent transplant, chances are you take advantage of the accessibility that the tourism industry has built for your own travels — from half-day skiing to a quick weekend getaway across the state for a change of scenery. Whether by car or plane, visitors are presented with the opportunity to be absorbed by Utah art and culture and transfixed by our scenic destinations.

According to a statewide resident sentiment survey, more than 70% of Utahns recognize the importance of tourism. Additionally, 72% of residents say tourism positively affects Utah’s overall reputation.

Utah is changing every day. With a maturing visitor economy, the likelihood of a returning Olympics, and a growing population, we have a great responsibility to do right by Utahns.

We’re taking the time to listen, hearing the voices of residents and visitors on community-led approaches, future investments and strategies.

We are striving to create a dynamic visitor economy that will benefit communities and visitors alike for generations to come. We are building a Utah where our children will want to stay, fostering pride among locals and visitors.

We open our Utah home to visitors, and in return, we are granted the ability to make our daily lives even better. Tourism works.

Ryan Starks is the executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Natalie Randall is the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism and Film.