Winter Tourism Essential to Local Economies

Winter-related activities attract local, national and even global visitors.

Robert Spendlove and Deborah Speed Jan 1, 2017

For many in the Intermountain West, the first sign of snowfall brings the anticipation of holiday celebrations, winter coats and crackling fires. For others it signals one thing: The beginning of another ski season. Ski resorts may be the primary draw to an area, but communities that depend on winter tourism offer many activities beyond popular winter sports as a way to capitalize on these conditions.

Winter Tourism

From outdoor adventures such as snow tubing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and ice skating, to indoor activities like shopping, spa treatments or film festivals, travelers are likely to find something to appeal to all tastes. The winter travel and tourism industry is an essential component to many local economies. Not only does the industry influence employment and wages, but it also impacts a community’s social and cultural environment, business development, real estate and land value. Because of this significant impact, resort towns such as Sun Valley, Idaho; Park City, Utah; and Jackson, Wyoming, depend on winter tourism to help drive their economies.

Seasonal Employment

Employers hire additional employees to support the influx of visitors during the winter season. According to a recent report from the University of Utah’s Policy Institute, Utah’s ski industry supports approximately 18,000 jobs. This type of seasonal employment lowers unemployment rates and increases employment opportunities, especially within the leisure and hospitality industries. Hotels hire more staff, resorts bring on instructors, restaurants attract more servers, retail stores employ additional sales support, and so on.

This trend also sets the stage for higher wages as the demand for qualified workers increases. In Blaine County, Idaho, home to Sun Valley Resort, leisure and hospitality wages amount to $17.4 million, which is 6.6 percent of the state’s total leisure and hospitality wages. This is especially significant because Blaine County only accounts for 1.3 percent of the state’s total population. The higher pay is because of higher demand for employees in the travel and tourism industry.

Social Environment

In addition to influencing employment, increased tourism also affects the social and cultural tapestry of a region. Winter-related activities attract local, national and even global visitors. This type of attention creates an opportunity for more cultural diversity as well as social and artistic development within a community.

Park City has capitalized on this by playing host to the Sundance Film Festival every January for more than 30 years. In 2015, some 30,000 nonresident visitors spent $57.2 million during the course of the festival, with 84 percent of this spending on lodging, meals and retail shopping.

Increased Value

The increase of population also leads to more construction, which elevates real estate values. Winter resort communities that are easily accessible and capitalize on their natural tourist attractions by developing businesses and amenities become not only desirable places to visit but also to live. As a result, home and land values increase.

For instance, median home values in Blaine County are more than twice Idaho’s median home value. The trend can also be seen in Park City where the median home value is more than three times the median home value in Utah. In both cases, the attraction of winter tourism has created environments ripe for economic development.

Come to Play, Decide to Stay

Visitors travel from around the world to enjoy these winter playgrounds. This tourism leads to positive employment growth, vast cultural and business opportunities, attractive real estate, and high quality of life, which all contribute to local economic opportunity. So while many people come to play, others decide to call these destinations home.

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