Utah sets state record for tourist visits in 2012

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people visiting the Beehive State climbed to historic levels last year.

Domestic and international tourist visitation to Utah hit an all-time high in 2012, with 23.5 million people visiting Utah's five national parks, 14 ski areas and scenic byways — a 6.4 percent increase from 2011.

That also topped the 17.3 million visitors who came to Utah in 2002, the year of the Olympic Winter Games.

The Utah Office of Tourism on Tuesday also released economic numbers that show continued growth in Utah’s tourism industry, reaching $7.4 billion in traveler spending last year — up 7.8 percent over 2011 — and employing 127,781 Utahns statewide, a 3 percent increase.

Travelers in 2012 provided every Utah household with an estimated $1,076 tax relief, the tourism report stated.

The top 10 attractions in Utah in 2012 were Temple Square, Zion National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bryce National Park, Arches National Park, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Canyonlands National Park.

In addition, there were more than 4 million skier visits in 2012, including residents and nonresidents.

“The growth of Utah’s tourism industry over the past decade has improved rural economies, stimulated entrepreneurship and small-business development, in turn strengthening our rural communities,” Gov. Gary Herbert said.

At a meeting Tuesday in Richfield between the Governor’s Partnership for Rural Development and the Utah Office of Tourism, the two agencies discussed development of an integrated strategy for improving the business outlook for rural Utah.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, there are six counties in which tourism employs at least one-fourth of the county workforce.

“Visitors to the state contributed $960 million in state and local taxes last year,” said Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “This new capital infusion is used to fund education, build roads and improve the quality of life for every resident.”

Tourism is a key job creator in several rural counties, employing 41.9 percent of the workforce in Garfield County, 38.5 percent in Summit County, 35.6 percent in Grand County, 32.8 percent in Kane County, 29.3 percent in Wayne County and 28.9 percent in Daggett County.

“As more visitors explore all corners of this great state, there is tremendous opportunity for economic development in Utah's rural communities,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.

E-mail: jlee@deseretnews.com

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