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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

VP Debate Brings In Over $7 Million To Downtown, But Will It Make A Dent In Losses Due To COVID-19?

A photo of the debate stage at Kingsbury Hall.
Courtesy of the University of Utah
A view of the debate stage at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City prior to the debate. The Downtown Alliance estimates the debate brought in more than $7 million to the local economy.

Income to Salt Lake City from the vice presidential debate could be more than $7 million from hotel bookings and shopping, according to estimates from the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit based out of the city.

Around 2,500 visitors descended on the city in recent days, including members of the media, the debate commission and campaign and security staff. In addition to booking hotel rooms, the visitors shopped and ate in the area, “providing a welcome influx of spending in the downtown economy,” a press release from the group said.

But since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Salt Lake County has lost over $339 million due to canceled events. And that’s just from large groups that booked through Visit Salt Lake, which partners with the county.

In contrast, visitors spent a record breaking $10 billion in the state last year, said Anna Loughridge, the public relations manager for the state’s Office of Tourism.

“We were on track for another record breaking year in 2020,” Loughridge said. “But of course, along came COVID and [it] completely reset the world of travel and the convention and event business.”

She said room occupancy rates in parts of Salt Lake County back in April were down by 80% to 90%.

“Urban areas like Salt Lake City's Convention Center District have seen improvements since April, but really require a lot more assistance and attention as we move through and recover from the pandemic,” Loughridge said.

Despite economic losses due to canceled events, Loughridge said Utah remains a popular place for domestic tourism because of visitors’ access to the outdoors. National Parks gateway communities have seen occupancy rates return almost to the same numbers as last year, she said.

In Southern Utah — a hotspot for outdoor recreation — tourism marketing is centered around encouraging people to find their space outdoors. But the area isn’t immune to major cancellations, notably the St. George Ironman, which was estimated to bring in $8 to $10 million. It was canceled in August, just over a month before it was slated to happen.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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