Economist: Utah lost $30M in government shutdown

Utah's national parks are reopening during the government shutdown, restarting an economic engine in tourism-dependent towns such as Moab. Image by Lisa M. Collard.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah lost about $30 million in tourism revenue during the partial shutdown of the federal government this month, according to the governor’s office.

Juliette Tennert, the chief economist in the governor’s office, said most of the harm to Utah was limited to the tourism sector.

Utah’s five national parks were among 400 parks, monuments and other federally controlled areas that closed after a standoff over the federal budget in Washington, D.C.

About 10 days into the 16-day shutdown, the Obama administration allowed states to pay to reopen their parks to offset harm to their tourism industries.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was the first governor to take the opportunity, sending about $1.67 million in state reserve money to reopen five national parks and three other sites for 10 days.

The shutdown ended six days later, and the federal government has repaid Utah about $666,000 in unused funds.

At his monthly televised news conference Thursday, Herbert said the transaction was worth it, even if the state is never reimbursed for the other $1 million.

The state spent about $166,000 for each of the six days the parks were reopened, but received about $3 million in economic benefit.

“It’s a good return on your investment,” Hebert said.

Tennert told The Deseret News that the state will likely see a dent in the economic growth expected at this point in the year, but the impact would have been worse had the shutdown continued beyond 16 days.

Monica Tibbetts, the general manager of the Red Stone Inn in Moab, said Friday that her hotel saw about 50 reservations canceled during the 10 days the national parks were closed.

Moab sits near Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in eastern Utah, and the town’s economy relies heavily on tourists visiting the parks.

Tibbetts said the reopening of the parks after 10 days “was a life-saver,” but she still estimates they lost at least $20,000, particularly as many reservations were for multiple days and multiple rooms.

The Red Stone Inn will be hurting for a bit because that’s business they can’t get back, she said.

Before the shutdown, they were set to have one of their best business years yet, she said.

“It still will be one of the better ones,” Tibbetts said. “But it did make a difference for us.”

The upside, she said, is that tourists who did show up while the national parks were closed were diverted to nearby state parks, boosting those sometimes overlooked areas.

Tibbetts said the shutdown also swung the spotlight on a critical industry in Utah.

“It’s a good reminder for us in our state, and especially in Moab,” she said, “how much we rely on our visitors.”

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