Officials Expect Coronavirus To Reduce Utah Tourism Numbers

Mar 4, 2020, 5:44 PM | Updated: 8:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Although not yet active in the state, officials said they expect the coronavirus outbreak to slow the flow of international travelers into Utah.

It was Tourism Day at the State Capitol Building Wednesday – an opportunity for tourism leaders to show off their favorite destinations.

Governor Gary Herbert and the state director of tourism answered questions about the negative impact of the coronavirus on the number of visitors.

“We have a very robust tourism trade,” the governor said.

Travelers and tourists spent a record $9.75 billion in Utah during 2018. More than $8 billion of that came from non-residents. That translates into $1.5 billion in state and local taxes.

From the Greatest Snow on Earth to the “Mighty 5” national parks, tourists from around the world have discovered Utah – especially the Chinese, who spend $140 million here each year.

Five years ago, officials said, there was a real surge in tourists.

“We had the year of the Chinese, where they actually came and designated Utah as a place to visit,” said Governor Herbert.

Prior to that, Utah seldom saw large numbers of Chinese visitors. The number has dropped since the coronavirus outbreak, which started in Wuhan, China – about 500 miles inland from Shanhai.

“Like any other major part of the US economy, we are seeing the impact,” said Vicki Varela, Utah director of tourism. “Canceled trips, canceled conferences.”

Varela said it was impossible to determine how long the outbreak would keep people away.

“We can’t possibly measure with any precision what the impact will be,” she said.

Varela said on a typical day in Utah, you can see a Chinese visitor at the Capitol Building, enjoying the beauty of the building and the grounds.

“They’re not here now. Travel has basically shut down,” she said.

For the sake of safety, that’s good.

“We’re all just taking a pause, uncertain (of) how long the pause will be,” said Varela.

“Clearly, the coronavirus issue – COVID-19 – is going to have a dampening effect on tourism and travel,” said Governor Herbert.  “The uncertainty of it right now is really going to stop people from coming. We’ll have to see what happens over the next six months.”

The lack of international travelers may encourage more Utahns to visit the state’s national and state parks.

“Maybe this is the year of stay-at-home vacations,” said the governor.

He said they still do expect plenty of visitors from across the country.

“They’re going to say, ‘Hey, where can we travel inside America? Hey, Utah… 5 National Parks, 43 state parks, wonderful, friendly people.’ So, we’re going to try to pick it up there,” said Governor Herbert.

There have not yet been limitations on domestic travel, and those tourists have continued to come to the state.

“We will continue to emphasize the domestic travel market. Most of all, we just want people to be safe,” said Varela.

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Officials Expect Coronavirus To Reduce Utah Tourism Numbers