Over the past few weeks, we published a news series on tourism in Tooele County, with the fifth and final installment on today’s front page. The series focused on the results of a study conducted by consulting firm State Street Partners of Salt Lake City.
The firm, whose managing partner, Michael Deaver, is a former deputy director of tourism for the state and who helped launch Utah’s “Life Elevated” campaign more than a decade ago, took 14 months to identify and assess the county’s current tourism-related venues and events. It also surveyed local and Wasatch Front citizens to measure their perceptions about tourism in Tooele County.
We found the study’s results to be a mix of “no mysteries there” to unexpected surprises. One of the results we found to be unfortunate.
Some of the results that fell into the “no mysteries there” category included Utah Motorsports Campus and Benson Gristmill as the county’s top venues for drawing return visitors, and Wasatch Front residents think Tooele County is too far away and not a tourism attraction.
As for unexpected surprises, Wasatch Front residents rated Danger Cave at Wendover, Stansbury Park Observatory, Ophir Historic District, and Wendover Airshow and Historic Airfield as the top-rated venues of interest in Tooele County, while rating OHV riding, hunting and fishing, and country music concerts as lower-rated attractions.
And what was the unfortunate result unearthed by the study?: Wasatch Front residents think more positively about Tooele County than local citizens do. Researchers expressed surprise how difficult it was for local focus groups to describe Tooele County in terms of a single, positive perception.
Which is leading researchers to conclude that Tooele County may have a self-image problem. That conclusion is supported by two pieces of data in the study: 1.) Tooele County residents’ impression of their own county is significantly lower than Wasatch Front residents’ impression of their own counties. 2.) Wasatch Front residents have a much more positive impression of Tooele County than Tooele County residents thought they would. In surveys, two-thirds of Wasatch Front residents gave Tooele County a positive impression rating, twice as many as Tooele County residents predicted.
All of which raises this question: If local residents don’t share a more positive view of their own county, will future efforts to further promote Tooele County for tourism development fall short? According to Deaver, such obstacles “are all eminently surmountable.”
The study’s research findings even end with this statement: “In five to seven years, there is a real possibility that Tooele County will be a surprisingly different place; even more vibrant, energetic, and strong; more loved by residents and more respected and valued by the people along the Wasatch Front.”
The Tooele County Commission hired State Street Partners to conduct the study, and then to use the study’s findings to develop a brand for tourism development. When the study was first announced more than a year ago, we expressed support of its intent.
It appears the study will be a useful tool in creating a brand and marketing campaign based on knowledge instead of assumptions. Tourism is a $7-plus billion industry in Utah. It’s time for Tooele County to earn a larger piece of the action.