SOUTHERN UTAH – With over 2.8 million visitors in 2013, and record-breaking months in August and September, Zion National Park has become one of the nation’s hotspots for international tourism and translates directly to the economic benefit of Southern Utah businesses that both to tourism or outdoor recreation.
The National Park Service’s visitation numbers for Zion National Park show 435,297 visitors in August, representing an increase of over 20 percent from 2013. This increased tourist influx is key to the growing success of businesses involved in the outdoor recreation industry and has local owners fluttering over hot outdoor recreation topics like the balance between conservation of our open spaces and industry’s economic longevity.
Bo Beck, store manager of The Desert Rat in St. George, and Jim Soria, owner at River Rock Roasting Company in Hurricane, offered insight into the tremendous boost tourists bring to the local economy, and discussed how recent outdoor recreation growth has affected their bottom lines.
Beck has been gearing up locals and tourists for outdoor recreation since 1984. As one of Southern Utah’s most experienced outdoor enthusiasts and outfitters, he has followed economic growth trends in Washington County. He said:
The growth has been exponential. For example, years ago National Geographic interviewed me for a piece they were doing on the growing popularity of canyoneering – which few people had ever heard of back then – now it’s become almost a common word in adventure circles around the area. We get visitors in here almost daily wanting information about, and gear for, canyoneering. Beck spoke to the implications of this growth for companies like The Desert Rat. Tourists visiting Utah’s natural wonders bring outside dollars to our local economy, he said, and boost business in and around St George.
Beck also highlighted the importance of finding a balance between preservation and industrial growth. The challenge of bringing in industry from outside the county while preserving the natural beauty surrounding St. George, he said, is of paramount importance to the economic longevity of small businesses in Southern Utah.
Jim Soria has been running River Rock Roasting Company for three years this fall and had similar observations. River Rock Roasting Company, conveniently located on the main corridor from Las Vegas to Springdale, state Route 9 off Interstate 15, has become a destination coffee shop, Soria said. Increases in park visitation have kept River Rock extremely busy, he said.
“Since opening almost three years ago our busy seasons have shown unexpected growth in line with the growing interest in Zion,” Soria said. “But more surprising to me has been the amount of business we see directly from the growing mountain biking community interested in the trails around the greater Zion area.”
While a local base keeps his business steady, Soria said, tourism to the unique desert surrounding the county allows his company to tap into different markets and grow its customer base. Returning visitors to the park will remember the experience they had at River Rock and will likely return year after year. River Rock’s profits have steadily grown each season, he said, and his store is poised to have the best season in three years this fall.
Is it simple coincidence that Zion National Park is experiencing similar visitation trends? Maybe, but likely not. Local businesses tend to be positively affected by the tourist-appeal of Southern Utah.
Marc Hansen, long time hiking guide and outdoorsman in the area also weighed in on the role outdoor recreation plays in the local economy. He said:
Utah has historically been a ranching, mining and drilling state, our resources have fueled our past economic machine. But with outdoor recreation gaining huge popularity in the state, we can’t afford to not protect our beautiful and unique landscapes in years to come.
In a drastically changing market, however, Hansen said, in his opinion, Utah’s mountains, desert vistas, national parks and outdoor recreation areas are becoming an ever more important draw to outside visitors, and, in turn, an increasingly vital part of the region’s economy. The southern part of the state in particular is attracting a different kind of buyer, Hansen said, underscoring his belief that among those visitors are those whose interest is to see ancient Utah.
Daniel J. Stynes’ 2006 economic impact study, written and published for Zion National Park, explains the financial impact tourism to Zion has on the local economy. Stynes focused his research on consumer spending around Washington County. In the study, he broke down tourist spending patterns and concluded that although hotels, restaurants and bars experience the most significant boosts directly related to tourism, other local industries – from retail shops to service-oriented outfits – also flourish during peak park visitation months. For the business owner, this means that even if its consumer base isn’t composed mainly of visitors to the area, the business should consider how it can better serve the growing influx of travelers visiting Southern Utah during the spring and fall.
Vision Dixie is a local organization of municipalities in the county focused on presenting a unified vision of growth for Washington County. Its committee members vary from local economic experts to political leaders whose common interest in the area’s growth has put them on stage together to answer important questions about how to grow a better Dixie.
In a 2007 report published by Vision Dixie, preservation of Southern Utah’s natural recreation areas in the face of a growing population was addressed. The report concluded that in order to best preserve our desert areas, “Dixie should first focus growth inward to centers, onto vacant infill parcels, and toward reuse of underutilized commercial and industrial land.”
Advocating a comprehensive system of trails and strategic open spaces, the report resolved that such a system would “preserve beautiful vistas and ridges and help maintain the individual character of cities and towns” as well as emphasizing the value of the county’s stunning natural resources for recreation.
See the Vision Dixie report here: Vision Dixie 2035 – Land-Use and Transportation Vision – published 2007. On Monday, Vision Dixie board member Rick Rosenberg said that the Vision Dixie plan is moving forward, including certain plan changes reflected in the 2007 report.
This push towards preservation, provides a new angle for local business owners to consider and a breath of fresh air to a growing economy. In a market this competitive, the muscle of the outdoor recreation industry is no longer an element that can be brushed aside.
- Zion National Park – visitation tally, 2004 through September 2014
- Vision Dixie 2035 – Land-Use and Transportation Vision – published 2007
- New study calls outdoor recreation industry the ‘overlooked economic giant’
- 2013 National Parks Shutdown: Interior reports $414M overall losses with Utah salvaging $10M
- National parks generate billions for communities, support 252,000 jobs; annual NPS report
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