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Kaitlin Eskelson: With help, travel industry will drive America’s economic rebound

Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune Money raised by Grand County's hotel room tax pays for ads like this on the side of UTA bus in Salt Lake City, pictured on April 19, 2019.

It is no secret the travel industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy due to COVID-19 and, with it, Salt Lake’s visitor economy. Salt Lake’s meetings, conventions, events and leisure travel has been decimated, equating to hundreds of millions of dollars to Salt Lake County alone.

However, the travel industry’s ability to bounce back after periods of economic hardship — and inject much-needed revenue directly into Salt Lake County’s visitor economy and that of the state — is why the theme of this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW) is the “Power of Travel.”

Being held May 2-8, this year’s NTTW is the 38th annual celebration of the U.S. travel industry’s contributions and an opportunity to remind visitors and residents alike of the incredible value the travel industry holds not just for our local economy and workforce but also for our community’s identity and culture, while reminding our leaders and policymakers of the travel industry’s ability to help power recovery efforts from the crippling effects of COVID-19.

Prior to COVID-19 overwhelming virtually every segment of the world’s economy and that of our community, Salt Lake represented 46 percent of Utah’s $10 billion visitor economy, and that $4.6 billion equated to $1,166 in tax relief for each household within Salt Lake County. But the travel industry not only relieves a substantial tax burden of each resident, it is a critical part of who we are as a community.

From welcoming skiers and snowboarders from around the world to enjoy The Greatest Snow on Earth® to being the gateway to Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and numerous state parks to hosting hundreds of thousands of meeting and convention delegates each year, Salt Lake is the Intermountain West’s economic and cultural hub.

That said, those in Salt Lake’s hospitality community are a resilient lot and determined to help lead the way in the recovery efforts of the greater Salt Lake area. In addition, working collectively and in partnership with those in the industry throughout the state, Utah will lead in the nation’s recovery effort as far as tourism is concerned.

While the accelerated pace of vaccinations has provided hope that a return to normal is on the horizon, a resurgence in travel demand is not guaranteed. Without aggressive federal action to reopen the travel economy and spur demand, the travel industry’s recovery is expected to take as long as five years — far too long to wait for the businesses and employees whose livelihoods depend on this vital industry.

The travel industry needs sustained relief to ensure businesses can maintain operation and employees can stay on payrolls until sustained demand truly takes hold. Our leaders must also identify the path to reopening our borders to safely restart international travel, as well as restarting professional meetings and events; these are crucial segments of our local economy, without which we cannot fully recover.

The road ahead is challenging, but the travel industry is resilient and has an incredible ability to bounce back from difficult times. This is the most difficult challenge our industry has ever faced, but we know travel is one of the best-equipped industries to lead in the recovery.

On behalf of Visit Salt Lake and the Salt Lake hospitality community, I implore lawmakers act now to jumpstart recovery efforts and get Americans traveling, then all of us in Salt Lake, and the state, can get back to doing what our industry does best — providing quality job opportunities, reconnecting family and friends, and showing the world what makes Salt Lake, and Utah, the best place to live, work and visit.

Kaitlin Eskelson | Visit Salt Lake

Kaitlin Eskelson is president & CEO of Visit Salt Lake.

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