Weak dollar a gold mine
The dollar may be foundering, but Utah's tourist industry is reeling in some big ones thanks to the lopsided international exchange rate.
Europeans, Canadians and even Brazilians are flocking to Beehive State resorts and national parks, where they reap a big bang for their euros, loonies and reals.
"We think it's the neatest thing in the world down here," said Lance Syrett, general manager of Ruby's Inn at southern Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park.
There's an invasion of German, French, Dutch, Belgian and British tourists.
"Our [European] bookings are up 25 percent year-to-date for the coming season."
And even Canadian bookings are up 15-20 percent, Syrett said.
Although there could be more than one reason for the increase - including a stronger marketing scheme by Utah venues - the big wave of foreign visitors coincides with the dollar's skid against foreign currencies.
"In talking with the tour operators, they think that's what it is," Syrett said.
The weak dollar provides a double-jackpot of sorts. More Americans are confining their vacations to within U.S. borders because foreign travel - especially to the U.K. and Europe - has gotten much more expensive.
Still, international travelers tend to be less tight-fisted than their Yankee counterparts, Syrett said. That's largely because Europeans and others - thanks to the favorable exchange rate - are getting such a great value and can afford all the extras.
"You quote a price to an American and they bellyache," he noted. "You give the same price to a German, and they just smile."
The same phenomenon can be seen at Utah ski resorts, where Europeans, South Americans and even Australians and Mexicans are getting a bargain on the "Greatest Snow on Earth."
And that's a big change, said Nathan Rafferty of Ski Utah.
"Traditionally, we've had a tough time competing [with European ski resorts] because of the strong dollar," he said. "But Utah ski resorts have seen a market spike, and that's attributable to the weak dollar."
Nowhere is that more evident than in Park City, said Bill Malone, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.
"Our international visitation is growing by leaps and bounds," he said. "The dollar thing has been great for us for the past two years."
Park City ski packages marketed outside the U.S. are up 22 percent this ski season over last, Malone said. And last year's numbers for international sales were up 16 percent over the previous winter.
"This is a great time for them to come," he said. "They are getting a great bargain."
In fact, most ski destinations in the western U.S. are seeing the boom, said Michael Berry, director of the National Ski Areas Association.
"The people who would normally consider skiing the Alps are taking advantage of the weak dollar and our incredible snow year," he said. "The Brits, especially, prefer the experience in the United States because there is no language barrier, and by some estimates - given the strength of the [British] pound - the beer is practically free."
But sooner or later, the U.S. dollar will rebound against foreign currency, explained Charlie DeLorme, San Juan County's director of economic development and visitor services.
"The weak dollar is a great buy, but [the exchange rate] isn't sustainable," he said. "This is a golden opportunity for us to market Utah now."
Once Europeans, South Americans, Koreans and the Chinese discover Utah, they will return, he said, even when the dollar gains against other currencies.
National parks - such as Arches, Canyonlands and Zion, along with other attractions, such as Monument Valley and Lake Powell - are magnets for foreign tourists from April through October.
Foreign tourists now represent one-third to one-half of southern Utah visitors.
And those numbers are going nowhere but up, said Marian DeLay, the executive director of the Moab Travel Council.
"Our bookings are extremely good," she said. "It's been like this for a while, and it will be like this for a while longer."
For Americans, this may not be the best year to visit Berlin, Paris or Madrid. But for Utahns, it is time to dust off the "welcome" mat and say: Guten morgen, Bonjour and, even Te gustaria Jell-O?