Southern Utah hotel bookings plummet – St George News
“The market is softening in southern Utah,” said Vicki Varela, general manager of the Utah Office of Tourism. “A lot of our hoteliers are seeing very steep declines in their bookings. It’s been going on since the spring, and we’re continuing to see those declines. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. But having money for cooperative marketing of our office so they can tell their local story will be a big part of their success in this soft economy.
Varela said some factors contributing to the decline in tourism are gasoline prices, the war in Ukraine, a slowing global economy and inflation.
“These are really tough times for our industry,” she said.
Shayne Wittwer, CEO of Wittwer Hospitality in St. George, said rising gas prices had an immediate impact with inflation as people became more cautious with their spending due to income uncertainty. discretionary and rising travel costs.
The current situation contrasts with what the region experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when southern Utah saw record numbers of visits, as out-of-state visitors poured in to the adventure spots of the region. But as international travel opens up and city travel regains popularity, people are traveling elsewhere, he said.
“Tourist destinations are competing to return to normal travel patterns while some of the state’s marketing hasn’t been as direct due to the 2021 results,” Wittwer said. “The exchange rate has made the visit less attractive for European and international travelers, so the number of foreign tourists is down and not expected to return.”
The current decline in tourism affects all sectors of the economy, Wittwer said, adding that in Washington County, tourism is “the tail wagging the dog.”
“St. George and Washington County’s economy is heavily impacted by tourism,” he said. “We can look at the booming construction industry, the booming real estate market, the destination of popular retirement, healthcare, retail, etc., but in many ways it all starts with tourism.”
It’s when people visit and fall in love with the area’s natural beauty, proximity to national parks, variety of trails, sunshine and welcoming people that visitors end up settling in St. George, he added.
Tourism-based businesses employ thousands of residents who purchase goods and services from local businesses, and as St. George experiences a drop in visitation, tourism-dependent businesses are feeling it immediately, including restaurants, shops, guides, outfitters and hotels, Wittwer said.
The hundreds of dollars that tourists spend daily boost business and add to sales tax and tourist tax. These taxes are used locally and at the state level to build infrastructure and improve the quality of life for residents. A strong tourism economy also reduces the amount of tax each family pays, Wittwer said, adding that in 2020, the average Utah household received a $1,112 tax benefit from tourism.
Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office director Kevin Lewis said the decline in visitation follows significant growth.
“A slowdown in visitation has a ripple effect on just about every other economic driver in our community,” Lewis said. “We have experienced extreme prosperity over the past 18 months as a direct result of the success of the tourism economy. This has led to business development, job creation, increased property values, improved global perceptions of our community, and improved amenities and services for residents.
The slowdown is a reminder of how quickly things can change, he said, adding that southern Utah must maximize revenue generated from tourists to create a superior experience for visitors and residents.
Lewis said his office is “working tirelessly” to set things up for a strong fall season.
One of the biggest factors influencing quality of life is tax revenue generated from tourism, he said, adding that year-over-year tourism in southern Utah seems solid.
“Despite some of the ill-informed narratives circulating these days, the visitor economy actually lowers personal taxes rather than raising them,” Lewis said. “The revenue it injects into our businesses keeps our economy moving.”
To offset the decline in tourism, Wittwer said people need to understand that services cannot be kept on a shelf and sold later.
“When a room isn’t sold, a table is left empty, or a timeslot with a guide and outfitter for outdoor adventures is left empty, the opportunity is lost,” Wittwer said. . “Instead of focusing on what we’ve lost, it’s important to make the most of what’s to come. It means bringing new events and embracing what the city and county have been doing.
He suggested marketing be more aggressive and work as an industry and community to keep Washington County a world-class tourist destination.
An example of how the Greater Zion and Tourism Office’s target marketing is to focus on German visitors, said Joyce Kelly, international marketing manager. The Germans have a long-standing reputation as one of the top international countries in the region for tours.
“The German visitor appreciates what we offer: outdoor spaces, hiking, adventure and canyoning,” Kelly said. “They also have a great appreciation and respect for our public lands and tend to stay longer and spend more money in the area.”
Red Mountain Spa General Manager Tracey Welsh said that although they had a lighter summer season, she expects to see a good fall.
“When occupancy is lower, our businesses respond accordingly, which can impact staffing or the timing of projects we plan,” Welsh said. “It also impacts tourism taxes that our county receives and uses for tourism-related projects and improvements throughout the region.”
Recently, Washington County received a portion of the state’s cooperative marketing grants from the Utah Tourism Development Council. The council awarded $5.2 million to 59 destination marketing organizations and travel-related nonprofits in 24 counties across the state, according to a news release. The cooperative program aims to leverage state and partner funds to attract visitors and grow the tourism economy.
The breakdown of funds received to help market the area includes $240,000 for the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Visitor’s Guide, $9,365 for the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Meeting Planner, $183,226 for the Tuacahn Center for the Performing Arts, $130,000 for the Utah Shakespeare Festival and $182,400. for Visit Cedar City – Brian Head Destination, according to the press release.