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The economy might be struggling, but Utah's tourism business seems to be on the upswing.
In a report released Tuesday, the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget reported that total spending by travelers and tourists in Utah rose to $6.525 billion in 2010, an increase of 4.7 percent from depressed levels the year before. Travel and recreation employment accounted for 122,839 jobs in Utah, an increase of 4.2 percent.
Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, credited an increased marketing budget, better public relations and word-of-mouth praise for the state's attractions for helping fuel the growth.
"People talk about Utah, and tell their friends about us," said von der Esch, who was attending a San Juan County tourism conference in Blanding. "We are getting more repeat customers. All the studies show that, post 9-11, people want an authentic vacation they can enjoy with their family. They want to feel comfortable with where they are going and get good value. Utah has that."
She said another key factor is the state's high-end hotel properties, many in Park City, which have been built in recent years and made Utah a destination for luxury travelers.
The opening of the City Creek development in downtown Salt Lake City in spring 2012, which will feature myriad dining and shopping options at City Creek Center, is expected to be an added boost for tourism.
"Shopping is a common denominator to every vacation," said von der Esch. "A destination city marketplace like City Creek and the investment in downtown can only bode well for us, not only for domestic travelers but for foreign visitors."
She said a "destination museum" such as the new Natural History Museum of Utah also could create more visits. Another potential draw will be 10th anniversary celebration next year of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics next year, for which many events are planned.
In Tuesday's report, longtime attractions such as Utah's national and state parks recorded increased visits in 2010, with the former's count up 1.2 percent, to 6 million in 2010, and the latter up 1.3 percent, 4.8 million.
"Tourism is a vital industry for Utah, and these increased revenue figures bode well for our state," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. "They are evidence that Utah continues to gain worldwide recognition as a premier vacation destination. We expect tourism to continue its growth trajectory as more and more people become aware of all that Utah has to offer."
The report said total direct state and local taxes generated by traveler spending was up 4.4 percent, to $841 million, including $500 million in state taxes. The number of domestic and international visitors also jumped, to 20.2 million last year, an increase of 4.2 percent.