Tourism is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the economy in eastern Utah every year. This year it may be bigger than ever because of the fact that people, in this weak economy, will be taking vacations closer to home.
Having grown up in Salt Lake, I knew something about Carbon County before I moved here almost 20 years ago, but I didn't know a lot. For me it was pretty much a gas stop on the way to Denver or to Moab. And that image is still true in the minds of a lot of people along the Wasatch Front.
That is not a good thing.
This area offers a lot of opportunity for tourists, especially for those that want the uncrowded, uncluttered venues they see in many other places.
A few years ago a friend of mine from Iowa came here for a day because his wife's sister was marrying a guy from Salt Lake and he wanted to see where I lived. I have visited his place in Cedar Rapids and later in Des Moines a number of times on business but he had never been here or even close to this area.
After a day here, he and the friends that were with him were amazed by what they had seen. I showed them some of the old mining towns, took them on a tour of the CEU Prehistoric Museum and had ended the day driving down to Buckhorn Wash.
"You have a wonderful undiscovered piece of America here," he said to me. "Who would have dreamed that."
However, we can have the most wonderful venue that people would want to visit, but if our community isn't up for those visits, people will never come back.
When you ask people who travel somewhere what was good and what was bad they seldom mention the scenery or things to do. What they do mention is the people they met and how they were treated.
That's why we all need to be ambassadors for our area, both when we are somewhere else by telling people about its good points and when people are visiting.
We can easily discourage people from coming back by being rude, unhelpful and distant. Or we can give them a great "people" experience while they are here, and by that having them walk away saying what a great community we have.
Last month I went to Texas to visit my sister. I used to work in that state and I never thought much of it; it seemed flat, desolate and I must have dealt with every curmudgeon that lived in the state while I was there on business. My visit was intended to be a happy one because I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, but I didn't expect much else.
Now here is this guy with this set opinion on Texas (and not a good one) and so what do you think happened? My mind was changed about Texas.
Oh a lot of it is still flat and desolate; but the people I met on this trip as we did some traveling to venues from Dallas to Galveston were great. Other than this one guy who was talking to himself standing outside a gas station along the Gulf Coast, everyone I met greeted us with enthusiasm and wanted to know more about us. The people we ran into were great ambassadors for Texas; so good they changed my mind a great deal about how I felt about the second biggest state in the union.
Probably my favorite line from anyone was from a waiter who served us dinner one night as we looked out over the Gulf of Mexico from a long time operating restaurant in Galveston. He asked where we were from. I told him that my sister and brother-in-law lived in Dallas and that my wife and I were from Utah. Without missing a beat, in a wonderful Texan accent he said as he looked at the two of us," Oh you're from way up in north Texas."
We all laughed; he was a tremendous waiter who told us stories about the establishment and treated us like family sitting at that table. He loved his job and it showed; he had been a waiter there for 26 years and he pointed to another man who had been there 42 years. It was obvious he loved what he did and that he loved Galveston.
Lessons can be learned from people like that; what he did was make it so my wife and I swore we would go back to Galveston some day and spend a few days instead of just an overnight there. That means money in the pockets of everyone from the hotel front desk attendant to the checker at the grocery store we went to
The correlation of money spent by outsiders in an area on tourism directly relates to the well-being of a large part of the populace. The dollar that a tourist spends in our area may well end up in your pocket or mine.
On the other hand if we drive people away by being rude or more importantly, indifferent, then that money will go somewhere else. A couple of years ago we did a poll about how important tourism was to our community. The majority of those polled thought it wasn't all that important. It's easy to think that the energy industry is all that powers our economy here, but is wrong thinking.
We all need to be the best ambassadors we can be.