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With Outdoor Retailer show gone, Utah will try to convince people there's more to the state than redrock

Published July 31, 2017 7:34 am

Tourism officials push Salt Lake City's urban charms on a larger scale, hoping to fill the gap left by departing convention.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Remember when a couple of Golden State Warriors players said earlier this year that they'd rather play the Los Angeles Clippers than the Utah Jazz in the second round of the NBA playoffs because there's nothing to do in Salt Lake City between games?

Visit Salt Lake responded with a playful video of people enjoying downtown bars and restaurants, wrote Golden State players and fans a snarky invitation to watch it, enjoyed media coverage of its comeback and reveled in the T-shirts the Jazz printed with #Nightlife.

Visit Salt Lake Executive Director Scott Beck and his convention sales team now have to push Utah's urban charms on a far grander scale, trying to fill the void created by the departure of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from two weekly blocks on the calendar.



"That's the hardest part for us," Beck acknowledged. "We understand better than most that when someone chooses Denver over Salt Lake City, it's not over affordability or accessibility, but the perception that all Utah has to offer is red rocks and snow and no place to get a drink."

Images of red rocks and snow have done well for the state Office of Tourism and Visit Salt Lake. But even before Outdoor Retailer left to protest the state's approach to public lands and national monuments, those agencies had campaigns promoting the Salt Lake Valley's urban assets. "That's been a big part of our strategy the past six months," said Office of Tourism Managing Director Vicki Varela.

"We're starting to make progress in people understanding how much interesting nightlife there is in Salt Lake. We've had a good reputation for arts and culture, but it's growing with additions like the Eccles Theater," she added. "And we're starting to get a lot of traction as a foodie destination in the high end and travel circuits."

One irony of losing Outdoor Retailer, Beck noted, is that while trade show products fit with Utah's reputation for recreation, many delegates themselves appreciated Salt Lake City for its urban qualities.

"OR [Outdoor Retailer] knew about Squatters. They knew where to get good food. Those things weren't issues for them," he said.

"While there is melancholy that they're leaving, there's also an appreciation for what they contributed to what we are. We're grounded in this reputation we've built around OR," Beck added. "We didn't lose them because the service was bad or the hotels sucked or there was no good food."

Beck's sales team already has filled the August week that Outdoor Retailer would have occupied next summer, booking the 5,000-delegate American Trucking Association.

"What resonated to them," Beck said, "was the proximity of Salt Lake City International Airport, the size of the Salt Palace Convention Center and the urban nature of the city."

He is confident Visit Salt Lake can attract enough new and repeat conventions to replace Outdoor Retailer's summer show.

But Beck is concerned that hospitality businesses in Sandy, West Valley City and near the airport — along with those in other Wasatch Front counties — will miss out more than downtown from the summer show's departure.

Replacing January's winter show will be especially difficult.

"There are not many trade shows that meet in January with 25,000 people," he said. "There aren't a lot of trade shows then, period."

OR has been a boon to Ogden, whose emphasis on becoming an outdoor-sports hub gained traction from Backcountry Demo Days staged at Snowbasin ski area or Pineview Reservoir.

"There is no denying Outdoor Retailer has had a significant impact on our community. … We will feel their departure," said Sara Toliver, Visit Ogden's president and CEO.

"With smaller marketing and sales budgets than many of our competitive destinations, bringing in such a targeted group [OR] was a great opportunity to create and/or increase the awareness of all our area has to offer," she added.

Utah County won't feel as much impact, but its hotels will lose some spillover guests during OR weeks, said Joel Racker, Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau president. "We're sad to see [OR] leave."

So is Park City Chamber Bureau President Bill Malone, although his group "never really targeted OR as a [hotel] room generator."

The Sundance Film Festival fills its available rooms in January, he said, while "our summer is a mixture of business travel and leisure. Business travel has grown significantly for us since coming out of the recession."

In Tooele County, Commissioner Shawn Milne suspects OR's departure may impact a few hotels. Rather than worry about those small losses, he's critical of outdoor-industry leaders for "using the power of capitalism to exact punishment upon Utah residents."

In an email, he contended many "OR tycoons" should move their manufacturing operations to the United States from overseas and put them near "vast tracts of public lands where the locals could find employment directly tied to outdoor recreation products that they help produce/assemble/sell. They could prove that there's a symbiotic exchange for locking up (er, preserving) wide open spaces."

Politics aside, Visit Salt Lake's Beck compared his current standing to that of the Jazz and its much-lamented loss of Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics.

"Just because [Gordon] left, the Jazz aren't going away. Even though OR is leaving, we're not going away either," he said. "I just wish there was another free agent out there that we could sign for January."

mikeg@sltrib.com —

By the numbers

This year, Outdoor Retailer attracted 22,000 people to the winter trade show and 30,000 to the summer market. Visit Salt Lake puts total spending by these visitors at $45 million.

 

 

 

 

 

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