At nearby Bryce Canyon National Park, the record was already set last month, with more than 1.5 million visitors recorded through September.
Canyonlands National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Pipe Spring National Monument are likely to set attendance records this year, as are a majority of the other national and state parks throughout Utah and much of the West.
Low gas prices have played a major role. So has relatively mild weather and an expanded interest in outdoor recreation. But that’s not the real reason, according to attendees at the 2015 Utah Tourism Conference recently at Bryce Canyon.
The real reason? Utah asked them to come, officials said.
“Given the recent success of Utah’s 'Mighty 5' tourism initiative, it’s only fitting that this year’s conference should be located on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park,” Falyn Owens, executive director of the Garfield County Tourism Office, said at the conference. “It’s the perfect setting to build friendships, improve our craft and explore the great outdoors.”
“Mighty 5” has been the largest of a number of campaigns implemented in recent years to encourage more visitors, with the Utah Office of Tourism estimating that tourism has picked up 44 percent since 2005, when major marketing efforts began.
Tourism has grown into a $7.4 billion economic driver for the state, according to the office’s estimates. One in every 10 jobs statewide is supported by tourism.
For tourism-oriented communities like Springdale and other municipalities along state Route 9 outside of Zion in southwest Utah, it’s the lifeblood of the local economy.
“It’s been a great year,” said Nate Wells, president of the Zion Canyon Tourism Bureau, citing the combination of good weather, low gas prices and better marketing.
Tourism to southwest Utah’s national parks and monuments brought hundreds of millions of dollars into southwest Utah in 2014, according to an annual report prepared by the National Park Service. More than 5.2 million visitors spent an estimated $336.8 million while visiting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Pipe Springs National Monument, supporting nearly 5,000 jobs and $152.8 million in labor income, according to the report.