Tourism dollars up year over year

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Moab’s tourism industry has enjoyed a year of healthy growth.

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According to numbers released by the City of Moab sales tax revenues are up 5.2 percent over last year at this time and 6.8 percent over the budgeted amount.

Statistics from the Moab Area Travel Council also show that through the first three quarters of the year the transient room tax (TRT), a 3 percent tax on all hotel rooms and private campsites, is up 12 percent over the same period last year.

Most of these increases came during the early months of the year.

“All sectors of tourism and outdoor recreation saw good numbers this year, with the river tours fairing well despite the low water levels,” said Marian DeLay, the executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council.

Visitation to Arches National Park this year were also up by over two percent. This shows the number of first time visitors to Moab is also most likely on the rise, said DeLay, since the number of people going through Arches is a particularly good gauge of first time tourist traffic through the area.

While Moab’s recreation economy grew overall, it is difficult to say what sectors experienced the most growth. This is because the breakdown of the sales tax is done by the state, with the most recent analysis being from 2008. Sales tax information for each month is also collected by the state, though that information is released to local governments two months after collection.

Two major Hollywood movies’ film crews were based in Moab over the summer. Johnny Depp’s remake of “The Lone Ranger” and Will Smith’s “After Earth” each took up dozens of hotel rooms in Moab for several weeks each, from April to July, Moab’s biggest tourist months.

“Having movie crews does skew the numbers. It benefits the TRT,” said Steve Wang, the managing director of Quintstar, a management firm that runs several hotels in town, including the Ramada Inn, Best Western Greenwell Inn and River Canyon Lodge. “It does displace some tourism dollars.”

That displacement would have come from the fact that, though the crews would have spent money at places like hardware stores and grocery stores, they did not spend as much money on tours and activities that tourists would have.

However, in spite of the movie crews, tour operators did not notice any decrease in revenue.

“It’s hard to tell if it would have been a better year without the movie crews. All those hotel rooms were for people not taking tours, but we still did even better than last year,” said Jamie Pearce, the manager of Moab Adventure Center.

DeLay agreed.

“My gut feeling is that the people that were displaced just came later,” she said.

Cycling, and increasingly adventure tours, are two of the main draws that bring tourists to Moab, said Kirstin Peterson, the co-owner of Rim Tours.

“Many people will do a day tour with us, then river rafting or canyoneering,” Peterson said.

Peterson also noted that there has been a shift in the past several years to more casual cyclists coming to Moab.

“We see a lot of people that wouldn’t do a bike tour any other place, people that aren’t avid bikers. But they feel like since they are in Moab they want to do it,” she said.

Extreme sports buffs aren’t losing their infatuation with Moab; she has seen a resurgence in more intensive riders coming to the area for trails like the Whole Enchilada.

Another trend that has many tourism-related businesses excited is the increasing number of visitors coming in what used to be considered the off-season.

“More and more people are coming here in November and December,” especially since there is not much snow at the ski resorts, said Gary Ranch, a manager at Moab Brewery, “A lot of them first come (for events like) Jeep Safari, then come back in the off-season to get away from the crowds.”

More businesses are opening earlier and closing later in the year because they have realized that there is still enough tourist traffic to justify it.

This trend is not limited to domestic tourists; European travelers, who historically have come to Moab primarily during their August vacation, are coming at different times. “Europeans are still mostly a summer market, but it is starting to extend more into spring and fall,” DeLay at the Travel Council said.

Good marketing, a greater diversity of activities and listening to what visitors want are areas that many in the industry feel Moab has excelled in.

“Moab has diversified our brand to become more attractive,” Wang said.

Peterson at Rim Tours feels the same.

“We have new trails and different activities like hiking and canyoneering. We are definitely a place that people associate with lots of different things. Even within the tourism vein there is a lot to do here. Moab appeals to a broader cross-section of the public and I think we will do pretty well in the foreseeable future,” Peterson said.

However, Peterson and others do worry that overpricing could sabotage continued growth.

“One thing I hear more and more is that hotel prices have gotten outrageous and that’s keeping people from coming back,” she said.

Though hotel prices have undoubtedly risen in recent years, DeLay believes that as long as Moab businesses keep the quality consistent with the cost there is little danger of Moab pricing itself out of the market.

“But a word of caution: we are at a rate that is acceptable, but that could get dangerously high,” DeLay said.

Another potential concern for Moab’s tourism industry is the debt crisis in Europe.

“I’m a little worried with how the European debt crisis will affect the European and German economy. It’s a high-risk area for the continued growth of Moab Tourism,” Wang said.

The projected rise in tourists coming to the U.S. from Asia could help to cushion that blow. Though the number of Asian tourists coming to Moab is small, it is growing, and Asians tend to spend more while on vacation than do other nationalities.

“Asian activity tours are probably less than 5 percent of what we do, but for our retail sales they are more like 10 percent,” Pearce said.

But even if the number of Asian travelers to the U.S. continues increasing as it has – at 435 percent since 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s annual report – it will still have a long way to go to compete with Moab’s European market.

“Moab is not on the radar of Chinese tourists. We are probably another 10 or 15 years away from becoming a popular Chinese tourism destination,” Wang said.

Despite these areas of possible problems, all the indicators point to a rosy next few years for Moab’s tourism economy. The results of the presidential election means that more Europeans will be visiting the U.S., with the United States Travel Association (USTA) projecting a 7 percent increase in tourism next year, after Obama was re-elected, DeLay said.

In the next year, local businesses and the Moab Area Travel Council will be continuing to push online and social media advertising. The travel council will also be changing the thrust of their advertising campaign from last year’s ‘This is Where Adventure Begins,’ to focusing on defining Moab as a one-of-a-kind place.

“Every place else in the world thinks that they are Moab. They are advertising what Moab has. This year our marketing is telling (people) how Moab is the only place in the world that you can do what you can do here,” DeLay said.

To read more visit moabsunnews.com

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