Utah hopes to cash in on post-Olympics gold


SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is hoping to win the gold long after the 2002 Olympic Winter Games are over.

The Olympics, which will begin Feb. 8 and run through Feb. 24, will expose the destination to an estimated 3.2 billion TV viewers worldwide, according to Carl Little, vice president for tourism for the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.

And although winter sports continue in the Salt Lake City/Park City region well into April, tourism officials are planning an advertising campaign to lure vacationers here through autumn.

Tentatively dubbed "Continuing the Celebration," the campaign is envisioned as a national promotion that could launch as early as April. Funding is still in the works, organizers said.

The campaign is likely to feature a statewide discount on visitor services, according to Ann Gambrino, executive director of the 500-member Utah Hotel & Lodging Association, which will coordinate the effort with the Utah Travel Council -- the state tourism office.

Yas Tokita, president of Mountain West Travel, a Salt Lake City-based tour operator specializing in handling Japanese groups and others visiting the western U.S., said publicity surrounding the games will depict the host communities as "very clean, crime-free and tourist-friendly," with new amenities.

Some of those amenities are sports facilities that were upgraded for the Olympics and will remain after the Games; a new light-rail system linking the downtown area and the University of Utah, site of the opening and closing ceremonies; a spruced-up interstate road system; the Hilton Salt Lake City Center's $12 million remodeling of its 500 rooms; the renovation of the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown, which has 509 rooms; and new hotel inventory, including the 775-room Grand America Hotel, which opened last March.

The region's core attractions include Salt Lake City's landmark Temple Square; the Great Salt Lake, and Antelope State Park, where upwards of 600 bison roam.

But the build-up to the Winter Games has had its problems, tourism officials said.

Mountain West Travel's Tokita said many skiers and other repeat visitors postponed their trips this year, believing they would not have access to the slopes, or that pre-Olympic crowds would get in their way.

Other obstacles tourism officials have been dealing with are speculation that the region would be too expensive this year and that pre-Olympic construction left Park City a mess. Neither is true, they said.

Harriet Roop, manager of Sundial Travel in Fountain Valley, Calif., and president of the Orange County chapter of ASTA, agreed that some clients shied away from Park City this year "because of all the extra security" they expected.

"Positive feedback from the media" during the Olympics will be critical to Salt Lake's success thereafter, she added.

Also critical to post-Olympics success will be operator interest in the region.

Southwest Airlines Vacations already has unveiled a variety of post-Olympics packages to Salt Lake City and Park City, with 37 participating properties.

Sample five-night packages, based on a March 11 departure from Seattle, start at $399 per person, double, with stays at the Hampton Inn Salt Lake City Downtown, and at $569 using Prospector Square Lodging in Park City.

The operator will add a car rental (Alamo or Hertz), airport transfers, ski-lift transfers and ski-lift tickets to the plans.

Southwest Airlines Vacations is one of 40 vacation-booking services listed in Park City's 2002 Olympic Year Vacation Planner. Also useful is the 98-page Salt Lake Tour Planner.

The booklets are good reference tools for post-Olympic trips to the area because they list a variety of services that operate year-round. To obtain the Park City planner, call (800) 453-1360; for Salt Lake's, call (800) 541-4955. (More information about Olympics-area hotels, attractions and events can be found in the Clipboard section of the Feb. 4 issue of Travel Weekly, Page 57.)

Tourism officials estimated that 8 million visitors will visit Salt Lake City this year. But some 2 million visitor-days will be Olympics-related, based on average stays of four to seven days per visitor.

And, on any given day during the Games, some 80,000 visitors will be at the various Olympic venues around Salt Lake City and Park City. Officials are counting on those guests to become repeat visitors and to spread the word about the region. Utah is hoping to attract 18.5 million visitors this year.

For more information on the area, contact the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 541-4955 or www.visitsaltlake.com or the Park City Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 451-1360 or www.parkcityinfo.com.

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