Editor’s note: This is the fifth and last installment of a multi-part series about a consultant’s research findings on tourism in Tooele County.
While tourism will play a role in Tooele County’s future, tourism won’t be a driving force of that future’s economy, according to Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne.
Following the collection of data about the county’s potential for tourism, Milne said he doesn’t expect tourists will flock to Tooele County like they do to Utah’s National Parks.
“However, we can increase the economic impact of tourism in the county,” Milne said. “And tourism can contribute to quality-of-life issues that play a role in the bigger picture of economic recruitment.”
One of the reasons for hiring a tourism consultant was to let experts of the tourism industry collect metrics and identify where Tooele County can best place its tourism dollars for the most impact, according to Milne.
“We wanted to find the low hanging fruit,” he said. “What are we already doing that we can improve?”
The county’s tourism tax fund receives revenue from a 1.0 percent tax on food purchased in restaurants and a 3.5 percent tax on lodging in motels and hotels.
State law that authorizes counties to levy the tourism taxes requires that the funds collected be spent on tourism promotion, including facilities for conventions, museums, sports and recreation.
Tooele County collected $954,322 in tourism taxes in 2016, according to the county’s tourism consultants.
Tourism, as an economic engine, is sometimes criticized because people see it as creating seasonal, part-time jobs that may offer a lower pay than the average job, according to Milne.
However, Milne said that tourism’s economic potential shouldn’t be left on the table when planning the county’s economic future.
“Our college students may come home for the summer and work in one of these jobs,” Milne said. “Even if tourism doesn’t create new jobs, it can put more money in the hands of current workers in the form of more tips or more hours. They then spend that money in our community making a positive impact on our businesses.”
In addition to an impact on the county’s economy, tourism also plays a role in the larger picture of economic development, according to Milne.
“Businesses that are concerned about the quality of life for their employees, which are the kind of businesses we want here in Tooele County, look around a community when they are considering relocating or expanding and ask ‘What does this community have to offer our employees?’” Milne said.
In addition, a positive brand and marketing campaign for the county can help the county attract businesses, according to Milne.
After a year of collecting data, Milne said he expects the consultants to take another year to define a brand for the county and plan a campaign to establish the brand and market the county.
“I always said that to do this right it was going to be a multi-year effort,” Milne said.
During the process of data collection, the consultants have identified “anchor” venues with a high possibility of attracting a large number of visitors and generating tourism revenue. These anchor venues are Utah Motorsports Campus, Country Music Fan Fest, Deseret Peak Complex, and the Lantern Festival.
Other tourism venues wrap around the anchor venues like shops in a mall, according to the county’s tourism consultants.
The consultants also found that despite a negative self-image, Tooele County does not have a strong negative image among people outside the county.
The current image of Tooele County among people outside the county is not deeply rooted. This leaves the way for a well-planned marketing strategy that portrays an accurate image of the county, to make an impact on people’s thoughts about the county, according to the consultants.
“I feel good about what we have learned so far,” said Milne. “And I look forward to what we will see in the next year.”