Everybody knows Utah has the greatest snow on earth. Now we're putting out the story far and wide that we also have the greatest parks on earth. —Vicki Varela
SALT LAKE CITY — State officials unveiled a $3.1 million advertising campaign Wednesday to promote tourism this spring and summer in what's being called "The Mighty Five," southern Utah's national parks.
"Even during the economic downturn, during the Great Recession, we had increased tourism activity coming to Utah, particularly to our national parks," Gov. Gary Herbert said. "It's an opportunity for us to build upon those successes.
This year's exclusive focus on Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks replaces past warm-weather campaigns that highlighted a variety of attractions in the state.
TV commercials will air in Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle along with outdoor advertising featuring "wallscapes" on buildings and social media activities.
"This campaign is going to highlight some of the greatest treasures in the world that are located here in Utah," the governor said, to encourage even more people to experience "the example we are to the rest of the country and the rest of the world."
With some 6.5 million visitors last year, the national parks alone hosted about one-third of the state's tourists. Visits to the state's national monuments, recreation areas and historic sites accounted for another 5.1 million visitors.
"Everybody knows Utah has the greatest snow on earth," said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. "Now we're putting out the story far and wide that we also have the greatest parks on earth."
Varela said advertising the parks after the federal government budget cuts known as sequestration will help would-be tourists understand "our parks are wide open for business."
Because 80 percent of the fees collected by the federal government at the national parks remain on site, Varela said more visitors will lessen the impact of the cuts. "The more people go, the better our parks are going to be," she said.
Denis Davis, the Utah state coordinator for the National Park Service, said the promotion of the parks should help counter concerns people may have about the federal budget cuts.
"The impact is real, but most of the impacts won't be noticed by our visitors. And that's fortunate," Davis said. "I think the more typical things that people will see is that restrooms won't be as clean. There won't be as many ranger-guided programs and activities. And there won't be the same level of law enforcement activity."
The TV commercial features Robb Baumann and his family hiking, rafting and biking through each of the five parks. Baumann, who first lived in Utah as a college student, recently returned because he missed the outdoor activities.
"It's not hard to imagine why people would visit here and then want to live here," Baumann said.
The new advertising campaign does not address or try to counter the state's pollution problems, which attracted national attention last winter when the air quality was ranked the worst in the country.
The governor said the air quality issue is being addressed by the state "irrespective of our tourism and travel campaign. But we recognize for economic growth, for the health of our citizens, it's an issue we need to tackle and we're doing that."
Varela said while it important to deal with the bad air resulting from winter inversions, tourists aren't raising the issue.
"We have not had much pushback from tourists," she said. "I'm not experiencing that it's creating a serious impact on our tourism industry."