The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah has released its annual travel and tourism report for 2021. The study, released in mid-December, showed that Utah visitor spending was down 29.8 percent to $7.07 billion in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spending decline negatively affected tourism jobs, wages and tax revenue.
Despite the adverse impacts of the pandemic, the report also indicated a healthy recovery during the first half of 2021, particularly in Utah’s rural regions.
“Utah experienced record visitor spending in every year from 2009 to 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic set annual visitor spending back 10 years and caused a statewide loss of 18,800 tourism-related jobs and millions in tax revenue,” said Jennifer Leaver, senior tourism analyst at the Gardner Institute and lead author of the report. “Still, Utah’s tourism industry fared better compared with the region and U.S. as a whole, attributable to our wide-open spaces, numerous outdoor recreation opportunities and effective marketing campaigns.”
According to the report, Utah’s travel and tourism industry accounted for an estimated 119,600 total jobs in 2020, a 13.5 percent decrease from 2019. For the same period, the private travel- and tourism-related employment sector wages declined 10.4 percent, while private air transportation wages declined 4.7 percent
The study found that visitor spending generated an estimated $1.16 billion in total tax revenue, a 17.9 percent year-over-year decrease.
Taxable sales in the accommodation sector neared $1.6 billion, a 25.5 percent year-over-year decrease while statewide hotel occupancy rates and daily room rates were down 26.3 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively.
Utah’s state park visits increased 32.5 percent from 2019 to 2020, while national park visits were down 27.3 percent. Despite operating under pandemic conditions, Utah’s 2020-21 ski season set a new record for the number of skier days (5.3 million).
Analysts expect travel in 2022 to continue to rebound.
“The pandemic has made our Red Emerald Strategic Plan more important than ever,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “Utahns and out-of-state visitors are passionate about our state’s wonders. We are encouraging more immersive travel off the beaten path to create a perpetual visitor economy.”