Community Worries About Overtourism, But Park City Chamber Numbers Show Empty Beds

Oct 21, 2019

Credit KPCW

The Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau has new numbers on this summer’s visitation as well as predictions for the upcoming winter.  According to Park City Chamber Bureau CEO Bill Malone, Park City still has room to grow. 

Malone says visitor numbers for summer are slightly down–just one percent–compared to the same time last year. But looking ahead to this winter, bookings are up one percent, with February being the most popular month so far.

With tourists adding cars on the roads and taking rental units that used to house seasonal workers, some locals wonder why the city wants to lure more visitors. Park City’s 2020 Visioning process has shown participants are concerned about the town becoming “Amusement Park City,” where the town hasn’t prepared for continuing growth and tourism, and only visitors enjoy Park City’s amenities as a vacation destination.

Malone says it’s an oversimplification to say the town has been overmarketed and to just stop marketing. He points out the Park City area still has plenty of hotel rooms to fill.

“We don’t experience over tourism," Malone said. "When you're looking at 53% occupancy in the winter and 42% occupancy in the summer, I think you'd have a hard time telling someone that has invested millions and millions of dollars into their business that they have too many customers.”

Per state law, Summit County must give at least 66% of transient room tax revenue, collected from lodging transactions, to the chamber/bureau for promotion and marketing. But the county has been giving much more. In 2017, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher says the TRT generated nearly $10 million in revenue, and the chamber received 90%, just about $9 million. In 2018, the county council voted to incrementally reduce the chamber’s portion from 90% to 70% by 2020. This year, the chamber received 76%.

Malone says the chamber/bureau uses that money to do more than advertise Park City. The organization also encourages businesses to hold conventions and meetings in Park City during the shoulder season, plus they support local culture.

“We spend approximately half a million dollars in supporting special events, such as Egyptian Theatre, such as all the music and cultural activities in the community," Malone said. "The National Ability Center's bike rides; Sundance Film Festival; Kimball Arts Festival—there's a significant amount of dollars that go into those areas.”

Summit County can raise even more money using the transient room tax.  Right now, the tax rate is 3%, but state law allows up to 4.25%. If it went that high, the county would only have to give 47% to the chamber and keep the rest for tourism-related projects. Malone says it’s up to local government to decide how much they tax and how it’s spent, but the purpose of the TRT was to advance the state’s tourism policy.

“There was an intended purpose, in terms of instituting that tax in the beginning, and that intended purpose was very much advocated for by the hospitality community as a mechanism to market," Malone said. "Just like gasoline taxes are directed towards highways and roads, transient room taxes on the guest were directed more towards building business.”

But local resort community leaders are asking lawmakers for more tools to help handle the tourism load. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman presented at a legislative committee in June. He said Park City is a paradise, but the town of less than 10,000 year-round residents struggles to host tens of thousands of visitors, workers and residents during peak times.

“You've got a town of 8,000 that thinks of ourselves as a small town, that has to be dynamic enough to balloon to service 80,000 people and somehow maintain our historic, small town charm," Beerman said. "That's really the challenge I face in the community, is how do we mitigate those impacts of that tourism, so we can keep our economy healthy and vibrant and also keep our residents happy.”

Malone says the chamber/bureau will attend a showing of a film by ski filmmaker Warren Miller in Santa Barbara, California, in December, as part of the chamber’s winter marketing campaign. The chamber is continuing its “winter’s favorite town” campaign, with a goal of increasing first-time visitor overnight stays in Summit County through digital and print advertising in target markets.