The first of an anticipated 8,000 visitors began streaming into Salt Lake City Thursday for two national events that have virtually guaranteed the city's hotels, restaurants and other tourist-dependent businesses their best week of the summer.
According to the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, the American Contract Bridge League and the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials - both scheduled for July 28 through Aug. 7 at the Salt Palace - will bring in thousands of people who will spend millions of dollars and then, hopefully, go home and tell their friends what a great place Utah is.The spotlight will shine particularly bright on the U.S. Gymnastic Federation (USGF) members and athletes as a national media army 150-200 strong arrives to chronicle the fortunes of those who will vie for a spot on the team that will represent the United States at the Seoul Olympics in September. (See related stories on D1.)
A block of 550 rooms has been set aside at Little America Hotel, headquarters for the trials.
NBC Television, which has the rights to televise the Seoul Olympics, will bring in film crews - including gymnastic stars Mary Lou Retton and Bart Conner - to give them experience for September and to film footage for their "up close and personal" interviews.
ABC Television, which has the rights to all of the Olympic trials events, will bring in a crew of 60 to cover the events for its Wide World of Sports program.
But it's the estimated 3,500 out-of-town guests who have bought ticket packages to attend the week of gymnastic events who will make the greatest economic impact, according to Dave Johnson, executive director of the Utah Sports Foundation, the non-profit public/private organization that was set up to bring just this kind of major sporting event to Utah.
"We've sold more than 3,000 ticket packages to this point and tickets will be sold right up to each event," said Johnson. "You can get a lot of different numbers about what all this means to the state, but we've tried to be conservative about it so we're saying it means $2.5 million to $5 million in revenues just for the gymnastics trials alone."
Johnson said those figures are based on each visitor spending $120 to $150 a day on rooms, meals, shopping and tickets during the trials. Many, he added, have said they will tour Utah by car following the trials, thus increasing the economic impact. He said no attempt has been made to apply the controversial "multiplier effect" - tourist dollars changing hands over and over again - to the economic value of the trials.
"And we have not put a value on the media attention although it has to be very meaningful." In addition to the television coverage, Johnson said numerous newspapers and magazines are sending reporters to cover the trials.
Johnson said that Denver, which hosted the National Figure Skating Championships last February, estimated its revenues from the 4,000 visitors to that event at $5 million to $10 million.
Johnson said the trials offer Utahns a chance to show the nation what hospitality really means. "This is totally a community event. The only thing that will make it successful is if the community comes out and supports it, and I can say it is being received very positively. By the time it's over, there will have been as many as 300 volunteers who will have made it successful. That's the kind of thing that will determine if we get more of these kinds of events in Utah."
Salt Lake was one of 10 cities that responded to the initial USGF solicitation of sites for the gymnastics trials. Through a winnowing process, the list was pared to three: Salt Lake City, Cincinnati and Houston. Salt Lake's bid was accepted.