Tourism Industry Bounces Back from COVID-19



By Del Leonard Jones

Tom Lund worried that his new business might not survive when Castle Gate RV Park in Helper was lumped in with hotels and ordered to close March 15 through May 1, 2020 due to COVID-19.

He had been open less than a year and it generally takes new RV parks five years to gain a stable footing. But, Castle Gate and other businesses in Carbon and Emery counties are not only surviving but thriving as they shake off the tourism recession caused by the pandemic.

Castle Gate RV Park, with more than 100 campsites, hit 85 percent capacity the last weekend of June after wallowing in the 20-30 percent range for a year. Groggs Pinnacle Brewing Co. in Carbonville gets 70 percent of its customers from out of the area, said owner Marty Beckman, and its business is up from 2019 despite fewer tables and temporarily closing on certain days due to a worker shortage.

“Last Friday, people were waiting at the door for a half hour to get a seat,” Beckman said. “The parking lot looks like an RV park with all the boats and trailers.”

McDonald’s does not share precise data, but said the number of customers in Price is up from pre-pandemic 2019.

The pandemic recession was never as severe in this area as it was along the Wasatch Front, said Jennifer Leaver, senior research analyst with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. And the recovery has been robust.

In Carbon County, hotel taxes, known as transient room taxes, were down 17 percent in 2020 from 2019. But ,2021 transient room taxes were up 14 percent the first four months of 2021 from the 2019 baseline year. Restaurants have fared even better. Tax revenue slipped only a half percent in 2020 and have jumped 22 percent in the first four months of 2021 versus 2019.

People with cabin fever saw outdoor recreation as safer. The state set a record with 5.3 million skier days in 2020-21, up 3.5 percent from the previous record of 5.13 million skier days in 2018-2019, according to Ski Utah. Now, the state has been swarmed with the bulging savings accounts of the vaccinated. International visitors have yet to return but driving vacations are fashionable and attendance at state and national parks in Utah have been setting records since October 2020. Visits to Huntington State Park in Emery County have doubled in the fist six months of 2021 compared to the 2019 baseline year.

Transient room taxes are up especially in rural cities and resort towns, according to the Gardner Policy Institute. Collections are up as much as 60-70 percent in Grand and Washington counties, while Salt Lake is down 40 percent.

Visitors to Carbon County spent $50.4 million in 2019. That’s .5 percent of the $10 billion spent throughout Utah, but that brought $900,000 in tax revenue to the county. Carbon County is well-positioned to leap past $1 million for the first time in 2021.

Promising to the community, said Lund, is that visitors are staying in Carbon County longer. In May and June of this year, 1,400 spent one to three nights at Castle Gate RV Park, 600 stayed four to seven nights, 275 spent eight to 14 nights and 115 spent 15 to 29 nights, Lund said.

“More people are considering Helper as their vacation destination rather than a stopover,” he said.

For most, Price remains a quick-stop destination for food and gasoline. Although a gallon of regular gas in Price has spiked 10 percent recently from $3.03, prices here remain the lowest in the state with the exception of Costco and Sam’s Clubs along the Wasatch Front. Gasoline prices sway the decisions of the owners of recreational vehicles with tanks as large as 150 gallons.

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