Moab Business Summit Mixed expectations for future of Moab tourism

By Carter Pape

The Times-Independent

While more and more tourists visit Moab more each year, some economic indicators suggest that tourism in Moab may soon be subject to stagnation.

During a presentation at the Moab Business Summit on Monday, Feb. 11, Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine presented economic indicators that he said could give insight regarding Moab’s current and future economic success.

While many of the locally oriented results he shared show that tourism in Moab has grown steadily in recent years, according to Levine, statewide, nationwide and global trends are not so positive.

Levine pointed to the increasing exchange rate of the U.S. dollar relative to currencies used in other large economies as a red flag. This increased rate means that foreign tourists and visitors coming to the U.S. lose some of their spending power upon arriving and exchanging their native currency for U.S. dollars, and such loss may drive down international tourism to the U.S.

Levine also highlighted data from surveys of U.S. consumers and Utah CEOs about their overall thoughts about the economy. While consumer sentiment has shown an overall trend of growth since 2009, shorter-term trends are more difficult to discern.

According to survey results from the end of 2018, the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce found that Utah CEOs who participated in the survey expressed the least optimism about the future of the state’s economy since the survey began two years ago.

At the same time, Grand County’s tourism-related tax income has increased steadily since 2010. “Needless to say, over the past eight years, we’ve done quite well in terms of local government revenue,” Levine said.

Much of this government income is driven by taxes imposed upon visitors who stay at hotels, campsites or other overnight lodging; they face what is known as a Transient Room Tax (TRT) and, on top of it, a Resort Community Tax (RCT), levied by Utah communities with a high rate of nonresident visitors.

For the City of Moab, TRT and RCT combine to represent a majority of the city’s tax revenue.

On top of the growth in revenue, annual recreation visits to Arches National Park have increased every year but one since 2004, and the number of people getting on planes at the Canyonlands Field Airport has steadily increased since 2008. Each indicates that tourism in Moab has only grown in recent history.

Levine closed his presentation by showing two images: one of Delicate Arch during the winter, free of visitors, and another of the scene of the same arch during the tourism season, with people dotting the landscape and heavily populating the photo.

“We keep selling this [first] image, and it’s a powerful, attractive image,” Levine said. “But more and more, when visitors get here, this [second image] is more of what they’re experiencing.

“I’m not saying this is good or bad,” he continued, “but it’s something that we need to keep an eye on: how are we thinking about visitor experience in our tourism-based economy? How are we thinking about what we market to the world and what we provide when [visitors] get here?”