SALT LAKE CITY -? A major Olympic afterglow continues to help Salt Lake buck a national downturn in the travel industry. Since the Games ended on Feb. 24, 2002, Salt Lake hotels have seen higher occupancy levels with more leisure travelers, more skiers, and more convention delegates attending conventions in Salt Lake in the last ten months of 2002 than in any other previous twelve-month period.
?Not only did we host more conventions and larger conventions this year, but several conventions had record-setting attendance numbers,? said Dianne Binger, president of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. ?Nationally, attendance at conventions has dropped off in many other cities, which makes Salt Lake?s post-Olympic success even more remarkable.?
Binger points to a number of factors influencing Salt Lake?s atypical 2002 travel surge. ?Obviously, Olympic exposure has had a big impact,? she said, noting that more than 3 billion people worldwide saw images of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in February. ?Many travelers watched the Olympics on TV in February and decided to visit Salt Lake this year.?
Binger pointed out that Salt Lake was also a draw because travelers see the city as a very safe destination with close recreational opportunities including ski resorts and national parks. ?Olympic images and emotions from February have helped us all year long.?
Binger also sees price as a major motivator in today?s white-knuckle economy. ?We are still very affordable, especially when compared to larger cities. In a very competitive travel industry, Salt Lake?s value as a destination has become an even more important selling point.?
Travelers who haven?t seen Salt Lake since the Olympics will find a brand new city with new hotels, restaurants, shopping venues, updated liquor laws, and new convention center space. ?More than 100 new restaurants, clubs, and bars have joined the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau in the past twelve months,? Binger said, ?and we are still benefiting from more than $4 billion worth of new facilities built for the Olympics.?
Ongoing Salt Lake projects include: an Olympic Legacy Park at the University of Utah, a new $80 million Salt Lake City public library building, the new Clark Planetarium, the new Alf Engen Winter Sports Museum, and the continued development of The Gateway, a 650-acre, $375 million shopping and entertainment district in downtown Salt Lake. ?Traveling to Salt Lake is like driving a brand new car off the lot,? Binger said. ?We still have that new car feeling.?
For convention delegates, the Salt Palace Convention Center, expanded to house Olympic media, is the heart of Salt Lake?s compact meetings package. The new faciliity opened in 1996, with the most recent expansion opening in late 2000. During the Games, more than 9,000 working journalists used the facility as the main media center. ?The size of the Salt Palace allowed both print and electronic media to be housed in one facility during the Games,? Binger said. ?That was a Winter Olympic first.?
The Salt Palace went right back to work after the Olympics, opening for business with a convention just 24 hours after the Salt Lake Organizing Committee vacated the facility. The Salt Palace is currently one of the biggest convention centers in the West. Situated in the heart of downtown, the convention center is encircled by shops, parks, plazas, museums, cafes, galleries, clubs, and bars all within easy walking distance of more than 7,000 hotel rooms.
The Olympics sparked major hotel development in Salt Lake, with 17,535 total rooms currently available in Salt Lake County properties ? a 64 percent increase since Salt Lake was awarded the Games. All are within a 35-minute drive of the Salt Palace Convention Center. Close to 8,000 hotel rooms are located in the downtown area within a few blocks of the Salt Palace, and more than 30,000 total hotel rooms are within a 90-minute drive of the city. ?With all the additional hotels, we were quite concerned about post-Olympic hotel occupancy rates,? Binger said. ?We?ve been very fortunate that Olympic exposure and advance bookings created enough draw to keep hotel rooms full.?
Salt Lake hotels have also seen a big jump in the numbers of leisure travelers, and the 2002/03 ski season is shaping up to be a record setter for Salt Lake?s ski resorts. Salt Lake?s close mountain resorts are one of the main reasons the community was selected to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, though the resorts closest to Salt Lake were deemed too precious to open up to Olympic throngs. ?Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude ski resorts made a calculated financial sacrifice last year,? Binger said, noting that skiers shied away from Utah last year because of misperceptions about Olympic crowds. ?This year, advanced bookings are at very high levels and the resorts are all talking about a record setting year.?
?With record numbers of convention delegates, leisure travelers, and destination skiers visiting Salt Lake in 2002, our Olympic investment has already started paying off with big dividends,? Binger said.