They may disagree on politics, but the state's gubernatorial candidates are all for one and one for all when it comes to tourism.
"No one in this room will disagree that tourism is critically important to all of us in Utah," said Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, speaking on behalf of Gov. Norm Bangerter.Oveson, Democratic candidate Ted Wilson and independent candidate Merrill Cook sang the praises of Utah tourism during a debate Friday in the Salt Palace sponsored by the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition and the National Tourism Week Committee.
While the candidates differed slightly on how the state should expand its tourism, they were unanimous in their belief that more money should be spent promoting Utah to travelers in other states.
What they disagreed on was the details on how to do it.
"Utah should cater more to California tourists," Cook said. "We've done that, but it's been a little helter-skelter. There needs to be better targeting, better market research."
Cook also pointed out the state needs better rest stops and restroom facilities along the highways.
"Toilets are not something you like to talk about at lunch time," he said, "but I would like to see our facilities more in line with those in other states, like Arizona and California. Improving them is a very important first step and not a very expensive first step."
Cook noted that tourism is Utah's No. 1 industry and said the state's economic development budget should be spent accordingly. He suggested raising the tourism promotion budget from the current $3.4 million to $6 million.
Wilson agreed that more money should be spent on tourism promotion, suggesting the current budget be "at least doubled."
"Every dollar spent returns hundreds of dollars to the state," he said. "But when Utah was cutting its budget, Colorado (Utah's primary competition) was increasing its budget by more than 100 percent."
Wilson said the state should spend whatever money it takes to help southern Utah develop an infrastructure that would in turn enable private industry to develop first-rate tourist facilities.
"Utah is the most stunningly beautiful place on Earth," Wilson said. "The reason we can't get them into southern Utah is because we lack the facilities."
Park City is a perfect example of a community that recognized its tourism potential and committed to establishing a first-rate school system and other amenities.
"Now Park City is attracting big business," he said. "Park City is a micromodel of what can happen in Utah. Tourism is at the heart and soul of economic reform in Utah."
Wilson encouraged Utahns to be proud of their state but was in turn attacked by Oveson for opposing the "Utah: A Pretty, Great State" campaign. It is a feel-good-about-Utah campaign that Wilson pledged to support in the beginning, Oveson said.
"If you can't trust him to keep his word on a motherhood-and-apple-pie program like this one, what can you trust him on?" Oveson said.
Oveson cited the Bangerter administration's commitment to tourism: pumping 42 percent more money into tourism promotion, committing state funding to support the arts and the Salt Palace, pushing for the development of Lake Powell so Utah reaps the economic benefits and the successful advertising campaigns that have prompted counter-campaigns in Colorado and California.
He even claimed the Great Salt Lake pumping project has promoted Utah tourism.
"We have a solid record of growth," Oveson said. "A $2.1 billion industry is up 5.6 percent from last year . . . and it's grown every year."
Utah is the Alps of the Western Hemisphere, Oveson said, and the state must not let anti-development factions stop the economic development that will benefit the entire state.