Utah tourism fund leaves out money for responsible marketing near Zion

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Southern Utah tourism organizations received their yearly boost for tourism marketing, the Utah Office of Tourism announced Wednesday, but Zion National Park-area groups were left out of new funding specifically for local and regional responsible marketing. 

In its 16th year, the traditional cooperative marketing grants gave nearly $4.5 million to tourism and attraction groups across the state, with about $1.5 million of that going to southern Utah and the five national parks — all to increase visitors and tourism spending through marketing.

But in a year of record visitation causing the effects of overtourism to be more apparent, the office is trying to encourage more responsible recreation than what’s been happening by introducing the “Forever Mighty” fund. 

“We are working to build something that is better for Utah visitors and Utah residents,” Director Vicki Varela said in a press release. 

Related coverage:U.S. Senate discusses overtourism, crowding at Utah national parks

From graffiti to traffic to trampled lands to illegal camping and fire rings, Utah’s national parks have taken a beating from the record-breaking number of tourists, even through the pandemic.

Zion National Park saw nearly 676,000 visitors in June — by far a new record for visitors recorded in a single month. Arches National Park also broke that same record for June, with nearly 238,500 visitors.

Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, saw their busiest June ever, with nearly 110,000 and 190,000 visitors respectively.

Bryce Canyon National Park saw its busiest month so far this year, with more than over 354,000 visitors in June.

More on record visitation:Zion breaks record of most visitors in a single month

Neither the co-op nor the Forever Mighty grants detail the projects behind the grant funds, and the office said they do not post the applications or project details online. Greater Zion did not immediately 

However, the co-op fund is to “not only to market your project, area, or event but also to extend the brand of the state,” the website says, stressing the funding is for out-of-state marketing, allowing for 15% of the total project cost or up to $35,000 to be in-state marketing. 

This new 15% portion was added during the pandemic to encourage visitation throughout the travel restrictions. 

“Our research tells us that when it’s safe to recreate again most people will look for activities closer to home,” the application said. 

And the new Forever Mighty fund aims to “inspire” residents, visitors, stakeholders and businesses to take an active role in the state’s recreation.

“The Forever Mighty initiative encourages travelers to explore Utah thoughtfully and safely by being well prepared, aware of our delicate ecosystems and engaged with the local communities they are visiting,” a press release said. 

Southern Utah awardees 

In regular co-op funding, Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office received a combined near quarter of a million dollars. 

In entertainment, Tuachan Center for the Performing Arts received $137,806 and the Utah Shakespeare Festival received $89,930.

Visit Cedar City received a combined $246,676 for Brian Head. Brian Head Town received $34,848.

Kane County Office of Tourism and Film Commission received $221,100.

The Moab Area Travel Council received a combined $141,750.

The Navajo Nation Tourism Department received over $5,000. 

San Juan County received nearly $210,000 and Visit Blanding/City of Blanding received $8,250.

When it comes to the new Forever Mighty responsible travel marketing grant, however, Greater Zion was snubbed, receiving nothing.

Garfield County, where Bryce Canyon National Park is, received $40,875, the third-highest award. 

Brian Head, with Visit Cedar City, got the highest amount for $43,900. 

And Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners received $9,147.60.

“2021 Forever Mighty Co-Op awardees include projects ranging from San Juan County responsible recreation initiative aimed at building the repository of Recreate and Visit Responsibly collateral and Ski Utah’s diversity and inclusion social media initiative to, Garfield County’s stewardship initiative with Leave No Trace Center for Public Ethics,” a press release detailed.

Find the full list of awardees on the Visit Utah website.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks Reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News through the Report for America initiative by The GroundTruth Project. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email her at kswill@thespectrum.com. Donate to Report for America here.

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