‘We don’t have the crowds:’ Tourism officials say Bryce Canyon needs more visitors
SALT LAKE CITY – When Utah’s other “Mighty Five” national parks experienced record crowds last year, Bryce Canyon did not. And so far this year the park has seen declining visitation.
“It’s been pretty quiet this entire year,” Falyn Owens, the executive director of the Garfield County Office of Tourism said. “In the spring we saw a little bit more travel, but not as much, and now it’s definitely kind of taking a dip.”
Owens said the lack of visitors can be blamed on a number of factors, including mainstay international travelers still not returning after the pandemic, gas prices and recession fears.
“We don’t have the lines. We don’t have the crowds. We have don’t have reservation systems,” she said. “You can just visit.”
She said it’s also frustrating that people think all of Utah’s national parks are crowded.
“We don’t have the issues that some of the other parks have,” Owens said.
Owens traveled to Utah’s Capitol Hill on Wednesday with Lance Syrett, the general manager of Ruby’s Inn which is located near the entrance of Bryce Canyon.
“Right now with gas prices and the state of the economy we’ve got a lot of open rooms,” Syrett said. “Guides and outfitters, restaurants are slow.”
Syrett and Owens made the trip to spread the message that Bryce Canyon could use some more visitors and promotion.
“There’s been this narrative of, ‘Well the national parks are overcrowded so why would we promote them?’ We’re here to tell the story that that isn’t true,” Syrett said.
He agrees that Bryce Canyon may be suffering because of the false narrative that all Utah parks are at capacity.
“During the pandemic there was a lot of bad news stories about overcrowding in the national parks, places like Zion and Arches,” Syrett said.
The Utah Office of Tourism said visitation is down at all of Utah’s five national parks.
“Post-COVID we’re having another boomerang where there are dramatic declines in visitation to all of our national parks,” said Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. “And we have one national park, Bryce, that never did get a bump or increase through all of COVID and they’ve still got declines.”
In July, the number of people visiting Bryce Canyon was down nearly 21% compared to July 2019’s pre-pandemic level. However, visitation at Bryce was up 12% over last year.
“The one big difference between Bryce and all of the other national parks in Utah is Bryce has always depended heavily on international visitation,” Varela explained, “and those international visitors won’t be coming back for several years so they have a lot of capacity.”
In the month June, national park visitation across the country is down 46% compared to June 2019. In the Utah region, visitation is down 33% over the same timeframe, according to the state tourism office.
“Visitation at all of the Utah parks is declining because of gas prices, inflation, Disneyland—people can go back there now—and euro-dollar parity,” Varela said.
Varela said her office is aware that there’s a lot of myth busting that needs to be done to help potential travelers understand the differences between Utah’s national parks and that there are places that are not congested.
“Because Arches established a reservation system people have a stereotype that that may mean all of our Mighty Five national parks require reservations—not the case,” she said.
Owens said tourism is a key economic driver in Garfield County and since Bryce Canyon as the main attraction, when visitation dips there the whole county suffers.
“When we dip in tourism we dip in all other aspects,” Owens said. “Most people are tied to tourism in some way. It’s their livelihood. It’s what we need. It’s how we live.”
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