Tourism in Heber Valley

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Heber Valley Tourism

Paul and Cameron Phillips are a father and son duo who own and operate Strawberry Bay Marina on Strawberry Reservoir. They represent the second and third generation of the Phillips family to run the family-owned business. Since the mid-1970s, when Paul’s father started the company, the father and son team have grown the business to serve the over 2 million visitors that come to recreate at Strawberry Reservoir each year. Today, the Phillips operate a fleet of boat rentals, guided hunting and fishing trips, a 21-room lodge, snowmobiles, and maintain four marinas on the lake. For them, running a business in the tourism industry is about sharing their love for the outdoors with their guests.

“My father instilled a love for the outdoors in me,” said Paul. “I am an entrepreneur at heart, and we created a business around the things we love to do. I love helping our guests create memories.”

Operating a family business that has spanned multiple generations has its tough spots, but for Cameron Phillips, Paul’s oldest son, working at the marina has become a passion that started when he was just 14 years old. “I started as a boat boy, cleaning the boats as they came in, and now I love to work with the public and help solve problems around the business,” said Cam.

The father and son team love working together; their example seems to be contagious as a few more of Paul’s boys have decided to follow in the family’s footsteps, along with Paul’s brother, Jon, and a few of his sons. The Phillips hope is to keep the company in the family and continue giving their guests and new visitors that authentic outdoor experience.

Before a business can become multigenerational like the Phillips’, it has to start with an idea, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a passion for the experience. Wilderness Access Outfitters is a relatively new business in the Heber Valley tourism sphere. Bryan and Kate Silvey have just completed their fourth summer. Like the Phillips, the Silvey’s had a passion for the outdoors and took the leap to make their passion a business. Bryan said Heber Valley became the perfect location for them to start their business because of the valley’s convenient access to many outdoor experiences.

“It took us ten years to find the perfect spot, but the Heber Valley is the perfect location with the right climate, community feel, and access to the outdoors for us to open our business,” said Bryan.

The Silveys and the Phillips’ experiences are just two examples of the hundreds in the tourism industry working hard to share their passion. Whether it’s the outdoors, history, art, food, or any of the plethora of things that draw visitors to the Heber Valley, these business owners want to share their love for their passion with others.

From single-person startups to large-scale hotels, all these players in the Heber Valley tourism industry add up to create a substantial positive benefit for Wasatch County residents.

Tourism is one of Wasatch County’s major commodities. According to the Kem C. Gardner Institute, in 2018, visitor spending reached $109 million in Wasatch County. That spending generated $16.6 million in local taxes with an additional $4 million in taxes in indirect spending. This represents sales, restaurant, hotel, and other tax revenue to the cities and county. That equates to about $1800 in tax relief per household in Wasatch County.

As an industry sector, tourism accounts for nearly nine percent of the labor force in the county. Wasatch County saw the value of tourism on our local economy this year as the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc. During the height of the economic shutdown, Wasatch County unemployment skyrocketed to 17 percent during April, more than double the unemployment rate during the recession a decade earlier. Many of those jobs were in the leisure and hospitality industry. Those were families who lost employment as visitors didn’t feel safe to travel. However, as things improved, many were able to go back to work and even had a successful summer. As of August 2020, Wasatch County’s unemployment dropped down to just over five percent, only a few percentage points above the three percent unemployment in February 2020.

Heber Valley attracts millions of visitors every year. With a beautiful landscape and easy access to three state parks, national forest land, Strawberry Reservoir, and much more, people come from all around Utah and from across the country to visit. Between community events such as the Sheepdog Championship, Swiss Days, Cowboy Poetry, the state parks, and Strawberry, Wasatch County sees about four million visitors annually. With a population of 35,000, the community needs this visitation to help sustain the businesses, restaurants, and activities the residents enjoy. For the Silveys, Phillips, and many restaurants, most of their guests are from outside the county, which brings in new dollars to the economy.

As the Heber Valley continues to evolve, so will tourism. This industry isn’t without its challenges. Different regions around the state are experiencing an abundance of visitors in which tourism has created congestion, infrastructure issues, and strain on resources. As more people come to experience the great outdoors, it will take collaboration, open conversations, and a strong vision to help protect what makes this place a tourism draw to avoid and mitigate these future obstacles. The future of tourism is bright, and if done correctly, Heber Valley will continue to be an exciting place for visitors and residents alike.