Tourism: A World of Scenic Wonder

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial year, the crown jewels of America’s scenic treasures are gearing up to break last year’s record number of visitors, which topped 305 million.

By the BF Staff
From the May/June 2016 Issue

More than 305 million people visited U.S. national parks in 2015, eclipsing the all-time visitation record of 293 million visits that the National Park Service (NPS) tallied in 2014. The new record is expected to be short-lived: this year, the NPS celebrates its centennial year and is pulling out all the stops to draw visitors to the nation’s scenic wonders. About 365 of 409 parks in the national park system record visitation numbers.

Utah offers world-class skiing (the Cottonwoods, top) and world-class culture (Sundance Film Festival, bottom). (Top, Chris Pearson / Ski Utah; Bottom,
Utah offers world-class skiing (the Cottonwoods, top) and world-class culture (Sundance Film Festival, bottom). (Top, Chris Pearson / Ski Utah; Bottom,

“The increasing popularity of our national parks comes as we are actively reaching out to new audiences and inviting them to explore the depth and breadth of the national park system,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “The 409 parks we care for preserve natural, cultural and historic landscapes across 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories, and they tell stories that reflect the great diversity of our nation.”

Much of the increase in national park visitation is the result of the National Park Foundation’s “Find Your Park” media campaign. In late December 2015, Congress approved a nine-percent funding increase for the NPS. Park visitors can plan their trips to avoid peak crowds by visiting the most popular parks in spring and fall and by visiting early in the morning or later in the day. Visitors can also take advantage of shuttles and walking trails at some parks, including Yosemite and Glacier and Acadia national parks.


What if you approached your vacation plans the way you approach a site selection decision? You would consider infrastructure, costs, transportation and other factors. Business-friendly government might be replaced by vacationer-friendly service staff—but you see where we’re going with this. Utah is a great place to build a business and a great place to visit on your own time.

Utah’s tourism industry has scale. According to a May 2016 report released by the University of Utah, tourism spending in Utah hit a new high of $7.98 billion in 2014.

Tourism is one of the state’s largest industries, on a par with top industry clusters such as financial services, software/IT, life sciences and aerospace/defense. (That’s right—Utah has the third most diverse state economy in the country.)

The bulk of the spending, $6.8 billion, came from people who visited Utah from outside the state or country. The red rock country sees numerous European visitors and a growing number of Chinese visitors. In the ski season, Utah resorts see a significant flow of visitors from Australia and Mexico.

The wonderful sandstone vistas at Southern Utah’s Zion and Arches National Parks helped push the combined visitation at the state’s five national parks to more than 8 million, also a record.

Infrastructure and Costs: So with the Mighty Five® national parks, 43 state parks and 14 world-class ski resorts, Utah certainly has the natural “infrastructure” to support a spectacular family vacation. What about costs? Considering that $80 buys an annual National Park Service pass good for a carload of people visiting any federal recreation site, that’s pretty price competitive compared to a day at Disneyland.


Fodor’s Travel recently named Utah the no. 1 destination in the world to visit in 2016, thanks in part to Utah’s national parks.

National Park ServiceArches National Park contains more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, depicted on Utah license plates.


National Park ServiceIn Canyonlands, complex canyons, mesas and buttes surround the Colorado and Green Rivers, and their respective tributaries. Edward Abbey wrote that the Canyonlands is “the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth.”

National Park ServiceWith the largest exposed monocline in North America, Capitol Reef shows the bones of the Earth. The area was named for white domes of sandstone, resembling the United States Capitol building. You can pick apples in the old settlement of Fruita at the heart of the national park.

National Park ServiceBryce Canyon is where the stars come out to play. Its major features include giant amphitheaters filled with amazing hoodoos (unusual rock formations…think Wile E. Coyote). Bryce’s rim sits close to 9,000 feet, allowing for spectacular “dark sky” stargazing.

National Park ServiceZion National Park is a crown jewel of the park system. Its “wow factor” is a steep multihued canyon 15 miles long and half a mile deep. (Think Yosemite Valley’s monochrome meets Van Gogh’s color palette.) A hike through the Virgin River Narrows is the experience of a lifetime.


Transportation: Regarding the transportation factor, consider Utah’s prime asset—the Salt Lake City International Airport. As a Delta hub, it has more than 600 daily flights, with direct connections to East Coast and West Coast metros and international connections to Paris, London and Amsterdam.

The airport also is one of the world’s most punctual. Analysts at OAG ranked the on-time performance (OTP) of airports during 2015, and Salt Lake finished fifth in the mid-sized airports category globally. It had an OTP performance of 87.9 percent, compared to first-place Copenhagen Airport at 88.5 percent.

That OTP means you can be in your rental car that much sooner—on your way to scenic Southern Utah or to a close-by ski resort in the Wasatch Mountains, all via up-to-date freeways. Or if you want to spend a relaxing evening in Salt Lake City and enjoy its blossoming dining and music scenes, you can hop a light rail train. In 15 short minutes, you’re downtown. Ticket price of $2.50—there’s that cost factor again.

Workforce: What about the quality of the wait staff, hotel clerks, baristas, guides and hosts serving you along the way? The quality of Utah’s workforce is top-notch. A recent Chief Executive magazine survey ranked Utah no. 1 in the quality of the workforce (That’s across all those diverse industries mentioned above.). Utah’s workers are young, healthy, loyal and in many cases, bi-lingual.

And Utah workers understand service. In 2015, the readers of Conde Nast Traveler named Park City—home of the Sundance Film Festival, top-ranked Deer Valley Ski Resort and hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails—the friendliest city in America. And let us mention that Travel + Leisure just named Park City the no. 1 favorite town to visit in America.

Bottom Line: You can take a direct flight that’s on time, close to a vibrant downtown and convenient to highways that take you to some of the most amazing landscapes in the West. The people who greet you will be friendly and competent. Those factors promise a successful vacation.

Now think of Utah in terms of site selection. It has robust transportation, a hip and happening urban setting, quick access to recreation, low operating costs and a workforce that’s hard working and engaged. Business friendly? Forbes has named Utah the best state for business in five of the last six years, so you’d be expanding operations in one of the most commerce-supportive locations in the world.

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