Bill's Failure Unites Utah's Tourism Factions

By Steven Oberbeck, The Salt Lake Tribune
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

May 20--The state's tourism industry -- a conglomeration of hotels, ski resorts, restaurants and other entertainment-centered businesses -- is ready to put internal differences aside to focus on what it hopes will be a new and stronger effort to promote Utah around the country.

Teri Burns, executive director of the Utah Hotel and Lodging Association, told legislators on the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee on Wednesday that industry representatives have organized a committee to explore ways to enhance funding for tourism promotion.

She credited the recent failure of Senate Bill 208 with bringing the tourism boosters together. "Now the goal is to come up with a broad-based plan where all partners share equally in the promotion effort," Burns added.

SB208 was a measure before the 2004 Legislature to raise lodging and restaurant taxes. It would have set aside a large portion of the estimated $15 million that would have been raised annually to fund out-of-state advertising of Utah's tourist attractions.

The state's lodging and restaurant industries, however, opposed the measure. They believed it unduly burdened their sectors of the industry. The bill died in the Utah House of Representatives without going to a vote.

Ski Utah President Kip Pitou said the players in the state's tourism industry have matured.

The polarization that once existed as the result of diverse efforts to promote the state's redrock country and ski resorts, for example, is ancient history.

"We've all reached the point where we recognize that we need to work together," Pitou said.

State spending to promote Utah tourism, however, continues to lag far behind that of other Western states.

David Harmer, Utah Department of Community and Economic Development director, said it bothers him that the state does not have the ability to promote a "Utah brand."

Yet to be successful in promoting such a brand campaign, state tourism efforts need to have a consistent revenue source.

Burns suggested the state needs to explore new funding opportunities.

"Colorado, for example, recently committed revenue from unclaimed property taxes to its tourism industry," she said.

Yet Rep. Gregory Hughes, R-Draper, said any increased tax funding that might flow to the tourism industry needs to be offset by spending cuts in other areas of the state's budget.

Noting that the tax burden in Utah ranks as the seventh or ninth highest in the country, Hughes said he is "not interested in increasing the tax burden on families in my district."

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(c) 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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