Vicki Varela presented the following message at the governor's Town Hall meeting of the Utah Economic Response Task Force, March 26, 2020.
Utah’s tourism industry — primarily hotels, restaurants, attractions and events — is the most devastated industry in the state. Needless to say, staying home means none of the above.
The average daily spend in the state’s $9.75 billion industry is about $26 million. Most providers are operating in the 10 percent range. A conservative guess is that we are losing $20 million in Utah tourism spending every day.
As you have heard, some of the only places that are open are state and national parks, and other outdoor recreation — most with restricted services. We all need to get outside, and that universal desire means some of these areas are getting congested. We cannot responsibly encourage travel. We shut down our mass marketing eleven days ago to respect the national urgency to put safety first. We are communicating on social media to inspire future travel. We are planning now for when and how to restart marketing. Our business partners tell us our re-entry marketing strategy is key to their survival.
In the meantime, our industry is innovating. Discussions are in progress regarding using hotels for hospital overflow and to better facilitate truckers carrying critical goods. Restaurants are innovating every day to keep a smidgen of business and also serve the community. Examples: the Salt Lake Valley-based Saffron Valley’s “Keep Calm and Curry On” gives back to service providers. (This week, medical workers get a free chicken tikka wrap.) Xetava Gardens in Ivins has been turned into a relief center for unemployed restaurant workers. Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” has teamed with the Downtown Alliance to launch a Tip Your Server campaign. Distilleries are temporarily distilling hand sanitizer. Sugar House, Salt Flat Spirits and Ogden’s Own are all helping out their communities in this way. And our partners in Emery and Carbon counties are doing Virtual Vacations to inspire future travel.
Our industry’s greatest need is short-term state relief until federal funds come through. We got results today from a Visit Salt Lake snapshot survey of 124 businesses. Collectively, they represent 7,800 jobs in Salt Lake County. Fifty percent of these 124 businesses will run out of cash in the next 60 days. They need grants, loans and tax relief to survive. Within 5 months, 80 percent of them are at risk to go under. Their number one need is unemployment compensation. Val Hale’s state and local initiative task force is leading to organize state bridge loans to keep small businesses alive until state funds are available. This is vital for our industry.
Finally, a reminder that crisis is the mother of invention. I love the observation of Dr. Good at the University of Utah about the importance of tourism and travel. He observed that after 9/11 we established TSA to make travel safe and that we need to create an equivalent so that healthy people can travel. Let’s get on board with that innovation.