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Desert Companion

Travel: Utah: No longer boring

Typically seen as the pretty but prudish state, Utah has quietly been working hard to market itself over the last half-decade as a place to … play hard and even party a little? Yes.

“Our brand is ‘Life elevated,’” says Clayton Scrivner, spokesperson for the Utah Office of Tourism and Film. “We definitely are trying to market to someone who’s aspiring to be healthier. An outdoor adventurer who’s trying to re-center himself.”

On tap in the Beehive State: relaxing of liquor laws, a spate of big benchmark dates, ramped-up investment in tourism and a major rebranding campaign. Consider: When new Managing Director Leigh Von der Esch took her position in the Utah Office of Tourism and Film in 2005, the state had only a paltry $900,000 marketing budget. That changed fast, however. Gov. Jon Huntsman was “very keen on tourism as an economic engine,” she says, and helped pass a bill that created a new tourism board for the state as well as $18 million in funding.

Next step: Creating a new brand. Officials embarked on a listening tour in 14 communities across the state. They held focus groups from Los Angeles to London. They sent out an “image survey.” “We expected the typical negatives — can’t get a drink, only one religion, nothing to do, no entertainment,” says Von der Esch.

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Instead, the results came back not negative but neutral. Utah was a blank. Even presumed positives — its stunning natural scenery — came back average to above average. And though some think of Utah as a family state, the survey indicated that people thought there was nothing for families to do.

Von der Esch knew that brand launches can be tricky. She notes that in Washington state, tourism officials spent more than half a million dollars and 18 months to come up with the brilliant phrase, “Say Wa?” (It lasted only a few months.)

Utah took it slow. Von der Esch explains that there are three types of slogans: descriptive (“Colorful Colorado”), prescriptive (“Find yourself in California”) and aspirational (Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign). Utah went for prescriptive: “Life elevated.” It applied to arts and culture, outdoor recreation, scenic beauty and moments when they all come together.

In Utah, the brand appears to have helped. In 2005, the tourism industry generated $5.779 billion; now it’s pulling in $6.2 billion. In 2006, when the brand was being launched, the state attracted 17 million visitors; in 2008-2009 (the most recent figures), the number was 21 million. Elevated indeed. See what highs are on offer 

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