Of all industries that might be hurt by the recession in which the United States finds itself, tourism, especially tourism from overseas, probably will be affected the least.
This word comes from R. Thayne Robson, director of the University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research, during the annual tourism update for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau in the Doubletree Hotel.Robson said America has been in a recession for two months and it should last for another 10 months, but tourism should remain strong. Of course, the price of oil will have an impact on tourism and the price of oil is tied to the turmoil in the Middle East.
He said tourism will have a 4 percent increase in 1991, down from the 6 percent increase in 1990 over 1989. He expects the majority of visitors to come from Canada, Mexico and Europe.
When asked how the United States could attract more Japanese visitors, Robson said somehow they must be diverted from travel packages to California and Las Vegas. He said the Utah trade and travel office in Japan is doing a good job in selling package vacations to the Japanese, but more can be done.
In the Rocky Mountain states, sales and receipts from the travel industry total $1 billion, Robson said, and tourism in the area is increasing faster than the national average.
In Utah, 9 percent of the economy can be traced to the travel industry and Salt Lake County is the hub of all activity and the gateway to other areas popular with tourists. Robson said Utah had a strong economic growth in 1990 so the recession won't be felt in the state like it will in some other areas of the country.
World events play a major role in the tourism industry, Robson said, and things like the reunification of Germany, the Middle East situation, rising fuel costs and the strength of the U.S. dollar all will have an impact on tourism.
Other highlights of Robson's update:
- Travel to eastern Europe is rising substantially.
- Changes in exchange rates and relative prices have big impacts on where travelers are going.
- In 1990, vacation travel was up through July, business travel below last year with increases in fuel costs having a big impact.
- Favorable exchange rates are dramatically increasing the number of foreign visitors to the U.S.
- Utah's tourism grows faster than the total state economy. Employment growth in tourism increases 6 percent annually. Gross taxable room rents in 1989 were $240 million or 8.7 percent higher than 1988.
- Salt Lake County accounts for between 40 and 70 percent of tourism spending in Utah depending upon the category. Tourism-related employment in the county is more than 30,000 with payrolls of $420 million and gross taxable room rents in the county were $106 million for 1989.
- Between September 1989 and September 1990, Utah employment in air transportation increased by 13.8 percent, in hotels and lodging it was up 8.7 percent and in eating and drinking establishments it increased 5.5 percent.
- The prospects for the Winter Olympics, expansion of the Salt Palace and improved airport facilities all favor continued tourism growth for Utah. High fuel and energy costs and slower economic growth will cause slightly slower tourism growth in 1991.