Report says tourism significant in rural Utah
Industry • Visitors create the economic foundation in 13 of the state’s 29 counties.
Published: March 19, 2014 08:21AM
Updated: March 19, 2014 08:01AM
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Tribune File Photo Hikers are dwarfed by the tall red spires as they descend the the Wall Street section on the Navajo Loop Trail, the most popular trail in Bryce National Park. Tourism is the economic foundation of 13 of Utah's 29 counties, including in Garfield County, home of Bryce Canyon.

A senior economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services said that while tourism isn’t a make -or-break industry statewide and actually lags behind the national average, it is the foundation of the economies of 13 of the state’s 29 counties.

“Tourism is often cited as an important part of the economy,” wrote economist Mark Knold in a report issued in March. “Yet, surprisingly for the state as a whole, tourism is not a make-or-break industry. Nationally, leisure and hospitality accounts for 11 percent of all employment. In Utah, it is only 9.3 percent. Yet, for certain parts of the state, tourism is indispensable.”

This is especially true in Garfield County, Utah’s most tourist-dependent area and a place where tourism makes up 40 percent of all employment.

The survey said Bryce Canyon National Park is the major draw, but U.S. 89 running through Panguitch as the main north-south connection for traffic between Salt Lake City and Phoenix adds supplemental flows. In addition, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah Scenic Byway 12, and Kodachrome, Escalante and Anasazi State Parks are major draws.

Garfield County commissioner Leland Pollock said that tourism accounts for 68 percent of the total incoming revenue to Garfield County.

“Because of the fact that tourism is seasonal, I am concerned,” he said. “We need tourism and a strong balance of other types of jobs. The ranching industry must be protected for this very reason.”

Pollock said Garfield County works aggressively to promote tourism because its leaders understand its value and the importance of strong promotion.

“Tourism within an area translates into jobs,” wrote Knold. “For some Utah counties, those jobs are the foundation of the local economy. Take the tourism away, and the economy collapses. In some counties, it disappears.”

The report said that while tourism exists along the Wasatch Front, it is easily balanced by the diversity of employment across other industries.

Utah counties that employ three times the national average include Summit County, where Park City’s ski areas are the big draw; Grand County and Moab’s outdoor recreation; Wayne County, home of Capitol Reef National Park, and Kane County, near Zion, Bryce, Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.

Rich County, which includes Bear Lake, and Daggett County, home of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, have tourism employment at least double the national average.

Beaver, Iron, Washington, Wasatch and San Juan County also have above-average tourism employment according to Knold.

“Tourism is important in Utah, not so much because the state economy as a whole depends on it,” wrote the economist. “Instead, because certain geographic segments within the state — mostly rural — rely heavily upon tourism as the key foundation for their economies.”

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton