Cabela's store rivals temple for tourists
In its first year of operation, the Cabela's retail store in Lehi is apparently close to matching the LDS Church's venerable Temple Square as Utah's most visited location.
And it has left behind the state's renowned national parks, even though they have been in the making for millions of years.
The Lehi Cabela's drew almost 5 million visitors since opening Aug. 25, 2005, said James Powell, the company's retail spokesman, surpassing even its own pre-opening projections.
"Based on the store size and [area] demographics, we were expecting 4 million. And we've done that," he said. "I would say it's approaching 5 million. We know when we bring a store like that to a location like that, that we'll get a lot of visitors. We're proud of that fact."
Although Utah Office of Tourism researcher David Williams said he had no outside data that could confirm or dispute Cabela's numbers - or those of any other attraction in the state - he produced 2005 tourism figures that showed Cabela's total would have been second only to Temple Square, which drew an estimated 5.7 million in 2004 and is expected to attract 5 to 7 million this year. Cabela's total was not included in the summary because of the store's mid-year opening.
Cabela's number also approaches the sum total of nearly 5.3 million visitors to southern Utah's five national parks - Zion being the biggest individual attraction at 2.7 million visits last year.
"We're proud of the whole region's appeal to tourists," said Cabela's Powell. "Whether it's Temple Square, or us, or any of the national parks that people come to see, it's good to be in that company."
Visitor numbers should not be confused with tourism numbers, said Utah Office of Tourism executive director Leigh von der Esch.
The Travel Industry Association defines a tourist as someone who travels 50 miles or more (one way) to a destination or stays overnight in the vicinity, she noted. And although there is no way of knowing what percentage of Cabela's visitors came from out-of-state, it seems logical to assume most were from the Wasatch Front.
Consequently, the economic impact normally associated with tourism would not be as great for Cabela's because most spending there would not represent outside money coming into Utah.
Nevertheless, von der Esch said, "they are contributing to the economy. I just came back from Minnesota, and what else do they market there? The Mall of America. Retail destinations are real and legitimate. The hunter from Butte, Montana, who comes to Cabela's spends dollars just as well as a snowbird coming down from Canada for skiing.
"We're just thrilled that [the store] offers one more thing to travelers when they come into the state."
Precisely, said Joel Racker, president and CEO of the Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, citing the store's massive aquariums, exhibits of wild game and collections of firearms.
"It's been a wonderful addition to the product Utah County has to offer the public," he said. "I look at Timpanogos Cave, Camp Floyd/Stagecoach Inn State Park, Utah Lake and BYU as the main products. Cabela's is one extra thing that's unique."
Racker has seen other examples of Cabela's impact - new hotels rising near the Interstate 15 exit serving the store, and nearly 5,000 people who used Cabela's discount coupons from an "Adventure Passport" issued by the convention bureau.
Cabela's has encouraged visits, and not just from potential customers. "We get probably hundreds of requests from teachers and organizations, asking to bring school children or tour groups through," Powell said.
Temple Square officials are not the least bit worried about Cabela's unseating the LDS Church's symbolic headquarters as Utah's centerpiece attraction.
"It's just another great partner helping to make Salt Lake City and Utah major players in the tourism industry. It's a positive for us," said Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality Corp.'s director of marketing.
"When you have something new coming in, everyone wants to see it," he added. "Temple Square has been here for quite some time so the curiosity factor really is focused on [outside] visitors, and we do get a tremendous number of visitors from all over the world, year after year. Many of the same people who are visiting Temple Square may be visiting Cabela's, too."