Park City , Utah 's Successful Combination of Tourism and Recreation Activities Creates Healthy Economic Development

By Nicki Sitko

Last Modified: Monday, April 18, 2005

Tourism as Economic Development

The use of tourism and recreation as economic development revolves around marketing and maintenance. The goal is to create and maintain amenities within a locality and then market those amenities to attract people into your area to use them. The process is not unlike using incentives to attract a new business to your city, except in one area, time. While you may attract a business to relocate whose single impact spans several decades, the target of tourism is continuous short-term visitors. These visitors are the mainstay of local economic stability. Their happiness, comfort, and perception in a city determine how and where they spend their time and, more important, their money. People travel to absorb the culture and specifics of a place. The goal then is to create a city with a distinct character that sets it apart from anywhere else and then market that character. The activities offered as tourism and recreation in an area must carefully fit into the vision of a place's overall character. In addition, the activities must be feasible within the existing and attainable infrastructure of a region, i.e. you can't ski in southern Texas.* Park City , Utah is a prime example of a city with a mix of events and activities creating a unique atmosphere where tourism drives a strong economy. In this entry, I will present some of the challenges of tourism in a local economy and how Park City had successfully overcome these challenges.


Park City : The Basics

Map of Utah

Park City , Utah was founded as a silver mining town in 1869. The silver strike in Park City was the second largest in the United States , and it quickly created a large, booming town by 1900. It was solely a mining town until 1963 when it opened its first ski resort. Mining continued for another decade or so, but ended in the late 1970's. Since then, the tourism industry has taken over the town, growing in strength with each year. Located in Summit County , just twenty minutes from the capital of Utah , Salt Lake City , Park City is referred to as a “bedroom community.” Many of the residents reside in Park City and commute to the much larger Salt Lake for work. With an actual city size of 12 square miles, its population in 2000 was 7,371. The surrounding areas, known as the Synderville Basin , contribute an additional 8,000 persons to the greater area.

Park City makes up 25 percent of the population of Summit County , with the adjacent Synderville Area adding an additional 9 percent of county population. Since the actual municipality is only a portion of the larger affected area, it is useful to think of Park City , as most residents do, as including the Synderville Basin . A large amount of the population is transitory, however, with many second homeowners and seasonal employees adding to or detracting from the population base. The town has a youthful demographic make up, with the average age at a low 32.7 years. Another defining feature is the city's wealth. Average household income in 2001 was $65,800 with family income at an even higher $77,137. Residents also have the advantage of living the ‘resort-style' life which the city provides,their taxes significantly lowered by revenue generated by tourism.

As a tourist spot, Park City has developed a strong infrastructure to support visitors. The bed base for tourists is 17,477 beds, with restaurant seats at 11,354. In addition, the city is home to 251 retail stores. All of these figures include Synderville Basin areas. The advantages and benefits of tourism clear from the following statistics taken from the Park City economic status report from 2002. Visitor spending in Summit County amounted to $333 million dollars annually. Tourism also provided 6,622 jobs in travel and recreation related fields. What these figures do not show is the significant disparity between the winter and summer seasons. Visitor spending in winter is nearly three times spending in the off season. The largest concern facing Parkites is how to keep their economy strong year-round. **



Skiing Tourist

The Big Three: Ski Resorts

Park City is home to three of the nation's leading ski resorts, including Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, and Deer Valley Resort. Utah boasts the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and the skiing industry is clearly the dominant tourist activity of Park City and the region at large. With lift tickets climbing to over $70 a day for adults, and ski-in, ski-out condos being built everywhere, the resorts draw the largest revenues from visitors. Skier days in Utah in 2001 numbered over 3 million days, with days skied at Park City resorts accounting for 41.9% of the total. Additionally, 31% of visitors to Utah stayed in Park City . 67% of visitors were repeat visitors. Tourists stayed an average of 5.8 nights and skied on average 4.7 days. These facts point clearly to the large role just three resorts and their revenue have on many aspects of city stability. It has become crucial then, that the resorts take the lead in giving back to the community in the form of services, funds, and environmental support. **

One of the primary challenges Park City has faces is how to maintain a healthy environment. The use of ski resorts as an economic base relies heavily on the natural environment, both for aesthetics and actual ski activities. The city runs the risk each year that the snowfall might not be enough to draw a sufficient amount of tourists to the area. With the advent of snow-making technology, much of this risk has been reduced. However, on the whole, the natural endowments of the land including trees, animals, clean air and clean water must be constantly and avidly protected, a job that Park City has embraced. Deer Valley leads in the environmental sector as far as reforestation, alternative energy sources, and green building and the other resorts have recently taken a harder look at their environmental impacts. In a recent sustainability survey and report conducted by the Public Affairs and Communications Department of the municipal government, the city urged both city and private businesses, especially resorts, to recycle, buy local goods, contribute to local projects, conserve water, and begin to use wind power. The city recognizes the value, both economic and aesthetic, of protecting its natural resources and is successfully educating businesses and residents to do the same. While this type of awareness and activity is always ongoing, Park City has certainly shown it can take the initiative to improve upon its existing structures and services.



Historic Downtown

Historic Downtown Miner Statue

Another challenge faced by Parkites is the maintenance of local character and historical assets. One of the more notable attributes of Park City is its thriving historic district on and along Main Street . Many of the old miner's homes and downtown stores are still in place after nearly a hundred years of use. Although many are becoming dilapidated, the city has taken a proactive stance to preserve and rebuild these historic buildings without completely removing their unique value. Homes and shops are continually being restored through public funds, and the result is a vibrant, character-laden Main Street that hearkens back to the saloons and homes of the miners. Newly constructed buildings must adhere to strict standards regarding the facades, height, and placement of their structures to match the old-town area. A parallel project has been initiated to collect and display artifacts from Park City 's mining history, as well as educate visitors and residents about the interesting origins of the town. While lacking funds, the program is growing in importance to the local community. Park City 's historical museum and downtown area, although not previously publicized as much to draw people into town, are nevertheless a growing factor that convinces tourists to return and explore more of the area.




Olympic Logo

2002 Winter Olympics

Park City has one of only two full Winter Sports Parks in the United States , and as a result, hosted several events for the 2002 Winter Olympics out of Salt Lake City . The Olympics in Park City had many effects on its economy. Firstly, the scale of the games was incredibly large. It connected Park City to neighboring cities, especially Salt Lake , the region of the greater Salk Lake area, the state of Utah as a whole, and even the United States as a whole. Furthermore, as an international event, it drew visitors from all over the world, and Park City gained invaluable publicity as a town open and accommodating to cultural diversity. From a revenue standpoint, the games had two notable effects. Firstly, the games themselves required the building and renovation of buildings, bleachers, roads, stores, and ski resorts. This by itself, stimulated development and brought new jobs and money.

Secondly, the large number of visitors to Park City during the games, estimated at over half a million, brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city in a short period of time. But even the residual effects of such an event are still prominent. Even today, the remnants of Olympic icons around town and the sale of various memorabilia items draw tourists to the town and money out of their pockets and into the Park City economy. It was feared that the number of people drawn in by such an event would put serious stress on the city character, residents, and service. However, after hosting 26 different events, Park City came out on top. Visitors surveys showed that Olympic tourists gave Park City outstanding ratings in service, quality of accommodations, transportation and overall impression. 88% said they would likely recommend Park City as a vacation destination. The town was still in one piece when all the guests had gone. ***


Growth and Sustainability

Both Utah and the Park City region as a whole have witnessed steady growth in the last decade, both in population, and in the economy. The growth rate of Utah is double the nation's rate. The population of Park City alone is expected to double between 2000 and 2010. Net in-migration of residents in Summit County as a whole doubled from 2002 to 2003, with most of the new residents residing in Park City . What makes Park City special is the naturally beautiful, small town atmosphere it provides newcomers. The charming downtown main street and adjacent old town historical homes keep the city a model of quaint friendliness, while the surrounding mountains and open fields epitomize a tie to nature. What the city has struggled with, and is struggling with, is how to cope with growth and development outside the municipal boundaries. The wealthy base of Park City residents has provided increased incentive for new developments to spring up in the abundant open space surrounding the city limits. What Park City stands to lose is one, its landscape and beauty that draw so many to the relaxing mountain hideaway, and two, its humble origins as a small-town.

City View in Summer

Of course the obvious question arises, is tourism and recreation a sustainable form of economic development? Will it provide enough local high paying jobs to boost community stability? Will the character and values of the city be compromised by inconsiderate tourists? Any economy that is based on outside demand, as well as the natural environment is prone to risks of eventual failure. How can Park City ensure its unique aura and distinct tourist activities will be desired and consumed for years to come? What will keep the “greatest snow on earth” in this region? The idea is flexibility or diversification, both within existing tourism structures, and in expanding to new industries. With an unemployment rate of just 3.4 percent, the number of jobs in Park City continues to increase. The years 1991-1998 saw a 72 percent increase in the number of jobs, including the doubling of manufacturing employment, and a 300 percent increase in construction jobs. The above trends point to both a city and a region that are expanding their economic base into new industries to grow very rapidly.

By providing a large number of different events, Park City is weaning itself from a solely ski resort-based economy. It brings people in the winter for other activities than various types skiing such as ice climbing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and even the Sundance Film Festival in January. There is also a keen focus on new events for the summer off-season to keep the city thriving. The Park City Arts Festival, Park City Marathon, cycling festival, hot air balloon rides, concert series', International Jazz Festival, summer motorcycle weekend, regional sports tournaments, summer hiking and mountain biking, summer golf, and a year-round historical district are just a few of the unique and diverse activities in which one can participate. These summer events create much needed jobs that bring income and population stability to the labor market. **



For over a century, Park City has been a vibrant center of activity and industry. It continues to draw visitors and new residents from all over the country and world to witness an art form it has perfected, tourism. As a case study, Park City is one of the best examples of a community and region economically based in tourism that has successfully prospered and continues to grow. Plagued by the continuous quest for sustainability, Park City still has much it could stand to accomplish. The new Blue Sky Wind Power program being pushed by the city government to diversify energy sources is clearly an area in which Park City has room to improve. The important idea is that the city has built an infrastructure, and a strong community base, that recognizes the problems the city stands to face in the future. The city's most promising asset is its keen awareness of potential conflicts and resolutions. New environmental, rapid growth and diversification issues will continue to be the focus of this small community, but the tiny town of Park City seems to be up to the challenge.





* Theories taken from: “Tourism as Economic Development.” Robert E. Glover. 1998. < >

* * All statistics and figures for sections are taken from: “Economics and Statistics.” Park City Visitor's Bureau Homepage. 2004. < >

* * * Olympic facts taken from: “Olympics.” Park City , Utah City Homepage. 2004. < >

General concepts from: Power, Michael Thomas. Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies: The Search for A Value of Place . Washington D.C. : Island Press, 1996.

Note: All other relevant information, facts, figures, history, programs and pictures not cited above are taken from the Park City Homepage.