‘West of Conventional’: Salt Lake tries to lure visitors after COVID year

Salt Lake City is using the rebranding to recover from a down year in tourism.

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) An attendee holds a sign with the "West of conventional," slogan at the Visit Salt Lake brand unveiling at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 3, 2021.

With mountains on one side and nightlife on the other, Visit Salt Lake is looking to capitalize on the city’s duality to prospective tourists with its new branding campaign, “West of Conventional.”

The new slogan and logo, unveiled Thursday at the Gallivan Center, aim to secure Salt Lake’s place in the “new visitor economy” brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Salt Lake, a nonprofit corporation promoting the area as a travel and tourism destination, worked in partnership with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and BVK Advertising Agency to create the new branding.

A main goal of the rebranding was to create an elevator pitch to describe the area in 15 seconds or less. Research revealed that articulating the Salt Lake City area and its story was usually a long-winded explanation, said Kaitlin Eskelson, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.

“We’re a city full of juxtapositions,” Eskelson said. “We have the urban and the mountains, so we have all these things that really shouldn’t go together, but miraculously do. So when we started looking at all the different juxtapositions that we have in the market… Salt Lake really can offer something that is not conventional.”

One of the main concepts of the pitch was comparing the access to nature in Salt Lake City with the culture of the city, with tag lines like “Everyone Comes — Anything Goes” and “A Place to Focus — And Lose Your Focus.” Visit Salt Lake will run an ad campaign nationally to bring attention to all the city has to offer as travel returns to normal rates from the pandemic.

“This is the perfect time to launch a new brand,” said Salt Lake County Associate Deputy Mayor Kimberly Barnett, “as we really have been forced to rethink the way that we do business and the way that we live life.”

“One of the things that we learned during COVID,” Eskelson said, “was that it gave us all a little bit of time to breathe, and to take a step back and really analyze what we were doing.”

Visit Salt Lake worked for two years on a blueprint project for the rebranding, which included studies on consumer sentiment and input from hotels, restaurants and local governments.

The initiative will also include regional outreach efforts over the next few weeks, with 10 murals by local artists to be unveiled in Salt Lake County neighborhoods, a scavenger hunt to encourage locals to visit the murals, a “mobile salt cave” that will be offered to incoming conventions, and a Visit Salt Lake-branded Airstream that will travel as a mobile visitor center. Some of the rebranding efforts were present at the unveiling, like the salt crystal-branded travel trailer and an opportunity for attendees to watch chefs create salt-encrusted dishes.

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) A caterer demonstrates how to coat a fish with salt at the Visit Salt Lake brand unveiling at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 3, 2021.

Visit Salt Lake’s partnership with the mayor and the Salt Lake County Council has already funded the organization’s media center at the Salt Palace Convention Center and provided $1 million in additional funding for Meet in Utah, a program offering incentives for companies holding meetings in the area. The initiative booked 30 events that will generate nearly 28,000 room nights this year, according to its website.

“Through COVID, the county — and our state at large — recognizes the need for this recovery in the visitor economy to be very, very strong,” Eskelson said. “It’s a very large economic driver, in the form of $10.1 billion statewide.”

Although the area’s tourism is still on the mend, 15 events were booked this month alone, said Utah Office of Tourism Managing Director Vicki Varela. With the success of this branding initiative, Varela said she is beginning a statewide “updated perception campaign” at the request of the governor.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. But we are on a trajectory of recovery. Utah is leading the nation in our tourism recovery,” Varela said. “It’s one of only a handful of programs in the country where the state and the convention district have come together to figure out how to dig the convention district out of this situation.”

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Visit Salt Lake airstream at the organization's brand unveiling at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 3, 2021.