Survey: Utahns supportive of tourism but problems, frustrations are brewing

May 10, 2022, 7:11 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 4:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Two new surveys shed light on Utahns’ perceptions of tourism, showing statewide support and capturing residents’ concerns about quality of life in high-visitation areas.

“What we know from this survey is that Utah residents, as a whole, are really happy with the visitor economy,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “We also know that we have some problem spots, and they are a cautionary tale for all of us.”

The Gardner Policy Institute conducted the surveys on behalf of the office. One survey focused on statewide perceptions, while the other focused on resident sentiment in 14 communities impacted by tourism.

“A majority of respondents reported the positive effects of tourism outweigh the negative,” according to the statewide survey results. “Many also indicated that tourism positively affects the state’s reputation and that Utah offers a positive experience to visitors.”

Both surveys were conducted in the fall of 2021. The statewide survey found that 75% of Utah residents feel optimistic about how tourism impacts the state’s reputation, and 66% feel positive about tourism’s effect on job opportunities.

The same survey found that 62% of Utah residents think tourism hurts housing affordability.

Results of Tourism on Utah's overall Reputation. Results of Housing Affordability Tourism.

“It’s better for us to have these hard conversations and to know so we can know where to improve,” Varela explained.

The local community survey included more than 1,200 people.

“There’s no area did a majority of respondents agree with the statement ‘government does a good job of balancing residents’ and visitors’ needs,’” according to the survey.

It also found that most respondents have concerns about tourism’s effect on housing affordability which are more significant in areas with higher tourism.

“The Moab area expresses high levels of frustration, with a majority indicating that the negative effects of tourism outweigh the positive,” according to the Gardner survey.

Quote from the Gardner Institute research brief

Residents in the local survey also expressed concerns about crowds, traffic, the impact on the environment, and quality of life.

“Park City responses also appeared to provide the most concerning views of the impact of tourism in their area and the community’s ability to accommodate current levels of visitation,” the survey said.

Varela said the state tourism office is committed to use the lessons learned from the problem areas and to create better strategies going forward.

“And have a plan for the other areas to avoid some of the problems they’ve experienced,” she said. The focus is on sustainable visitation and better experiences for everyone involved in tourism.

“We’re in this for the long game,” Varela expressed. “This gives us the tools to lay out a long-term strategy that will do right by Utahns and visitors.”

She said the state would be doubling-down on its Forever Mighty initiative that encourages visitors to be thoughtful and respectful of local communities.

Here are some of the open-ended responses the local survey received:

“The Gunlock waterfalls were overrun with tourists when they last ran. Sand Hollow State Park routinely closed because it was at capacity and many of those visiting were tourists, so locals cannot enjoy their own area if too many tourists arrive,” a resident of Washington County said.

“The number of jobs correlating to the amount of money paid by tourism dollars isn’t a life-sustaining wage. We absolutely should not rely on tourism dollars to support a community, it should only be a supplement,” a resident of Carbon/Emery counties expressed.

“People like interacting with the guests. It stimulates the economy for jobs. Tourism down here is very important to the economy,” wrote a resident of Wayne/Garfield counties

“Food, gas, housing, and property are high! Businesses cannot keep employees because of the high cost of housing, so the quality of service is poor! The environment is being trampled to death by the number of people and their machines! Noise is HIGH also. This place sucks!” a resident of the Moab area said.

“Not just search and rescue, but other emergencies and public safety need to have some tourism funds to help pay for the tourists who get lost, hurt, or have other emergencies,” a resident of the Springdale area worries.

“We have great environmental resources for the traveling public to enjoy, and the experiences are positive,” a Daggett/Uintah counties resident said.

“We need more restaurants that are sit-down dining. We have so many fast food places, but few options for a quality dining experience,” a resident of Northern Utah wrote.

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Survey: Utahns supportive of tourism but problems, frustrations are brewing