Utah tourism officials are gearing up for another busy summer season, with the prospect of record numbers of tourists expected to pour more than $2 billion into the Beehive State's economy this year.
Part of the credit has to go to a wide-ranging television and magazine advertising campaign aimed at luring visitors to Utah's scenic and historic attractions, including five national parks, the famed Temple Square and that perennial favorite, the Great Salt Lake."We've really rolled it out this year," said Joe Rutherford of the Utah Travel Council, which spent $610,000 on TV ads in Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho and Colorado.
Another $260,000 went to a campaign in magazines like Gourmet, TV Guide, Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens and Conde-Nast Traveler.
The television campaign already has prompted inquiries from 28,000 prospective tourists who've called the travel council's toll-free number for information and travel brochures in the past few weeks, Rutherford said.
"We're expecting another busy summer," he said. "This is the first big push on the tube in quite a while for us."
While Utah always has fervently touted its skiing, Rutherford said skiers account for only about 300,000 of the 11 million people who visit Utah each year.
"The lion's share certainly comes in the summer," he said. "That's when kids are out of school and people are on the road."
As always, tourism officials say, the throngs will include countless visitors from foreign countries, particularly Japan.
At Temple Square, the heart of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a quarter of the more than 4 million tourists expected this year will be from out-of-state and other nations, said public relations director Quig Nielsen.
And the tourists bring money. In just one month last year, the visitors spent $6 million on accommodations in the capital city, he said.
But the mountains and valleys of northern Utah aren't the only draw, Rutherford said. Each summer, some 3 million people visit Lake Powell and another 2 million tour Zion National Park in the south.
Spokeswoman Karen Whitney of the Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area said the number of visitors has increased 74 percent in the past five years, which she attributes to a growing population in the southwest United States.
To ease the burden, a new marina is planned at Lake Powell, prized for its water skiing, bass fishing and scenic splendor. Many visitors camp, others stay in lakeside hotels and others rent houseboats for leisurely tours of its thousands of miles of shoreline.
Even as the Easter weekend approached, the campgrounds at Zion National park were filling up, leading to inevitable traffic congestion, said facility manager Dave Karaszewski.
"The sheer number of cars makes it close to a gridlock on the weekends," he said, adding that last summer's one-week trial of a shuttle bus system was successful. The park hopes to implement the system permanently in the next couple of years.
Back in the north is the Great Salt Lake - an 80-mile-long, 30-mile-wide inland sea whose level fluctuates frustratingly from year to year.
In this decade, the lake reached record levels, flooding its shoreline and prompting a $60 million pumping project aimed at controlling its errant ways for good.
So decimated were the lake's beaches that Salt Lake County officials launched a "Bring Back the Beach" movement two years ago, a campaign that featured imported sand and movable, floatable facilities.
"Two years ago, `Bring Back the Beach' got everyone in the mold to fight Mother Nature," said project chairman Mike Stewart, who also chairs the Salt Lake County Commission.
"Never again will we see the damage we saw in the past few years," he said. "Public and private ventures will be portable and floatable. They can move up and down the beach, move with the tide."
Stewart hopes developers will be encouraged to restore Saltair, an onion-domed rec-reation center that once was flooded but now is stranded and abandoned far from the water.