Tourism Growth in Moab

Photo by Colleen S. Good. A group of West Virginia University students and professors hiking in the Needles District near Moab, Utah.

Photo by Colleen S. Good.
A group of West Virginia University students and professors hiking in the Needles District near Moab, Utah.

Moab, Utah is a town brimming with activity. While its year-round population is small, with only 5,100 full time residents, over one million people come to Moab and the surrounding parks each year to enjoy the wide variety of outdoor adventuring the area offers.

Moab, Utah: Adventure Capital

Rick Myers, 62, has worked at the Moab Information Center as an information specialist for the past several years.

“A few years ago, Forbes Magazine had us as the number one adventure capital of the world,” Myers said.

Photo by Colleen S. Good. Climbing is getting increasingly popular in Moab. Jen Skinner waits her turn at Ice Cream Parlor.

Photo by Colleen S. Good.
Climbing is getting increasingly popular in Moab. Jen Skinner, 19, waits her turn at Ice Cream Parlor.

While Myers has only called Moab home for 12 years, he’s been coming to the area for over 25 years. He said the number of visitors just seems to keep on growing.

“We get busier every year. More and more people are coming in,” Myers said. “Spring and fall are our biggest seasons, although summers are getting busier. We get a lot of European tourists in the summer who don’t seem to mind the heat so much.”

Weather Trends Affect Local Travel

Yearly weather trends also have an impact on who comes and when.

Herb Crimp, 32, works as a guide and office manager at Desert Highlights, the oldest canyoneering guide company in Moab. The good weather has brought Desert Highlights a lot of business this year.

Photo by Colleen S. Good. Merv Davis changes a bike tire near the Moab rail trail, which can be ridden right into downtown Moab.

Photo by Colleen S. Good.
Merv Davis, 22, changes a bike tire near the Moab rail trail, which can be ridden right into downtown Moab.

“For us for the month of March, we’ve done twice as many trips as we had last year. And it’s kind of hard to look on it on just a year-by-year basis because we’re very weather dependent,” Crimp said.

When the weather is nice, Crimp said that more local tourists come in for day or weekend trips.

“When that happens, we see a lot more local visitation from Denver, Salt Lake…Southern California,” he said.

Tourism Marketing Emphasized by the State

Tourism marketing spending by the state has helped bring people in.

“The state of Utah has put a lot of emphasis on marketing tourism, and trying to get more visitors to come, especially from areas like Colorado and Salt Lake…I don’t see that letting up any time soon,” Crimp said. “And the evidence of that is the steady growth of new hotels and B&Bs and whatnot. It seems like the whole town in general is preparing for that continued growth. And we’re certainly hopeful too.”

Photo by Colleen S. Good. Arches National Park at sunrise.

Photo by Colleen S. Good.
Arches National Park at sunrise.

A Calmer Tourist Town

But the Moab area wasn’t always as bustling.

Nate Syndor, 35, owner of Moab Desert Adventures, said the commercialization of the area was initially slow coming.

“For a long, long time, Moab was kind of a glorified trailer park,” Syndor said. “You know, there weren’t many housing developments or mansions, or any of those things that kind of happen to mountain towns, whereas that’s slowly happening to Moab.”

Syndor is happy that commercialization hasn’t taken hold as much in Moab.

Photo by Colleen S. Good. Birdie Hawkins takes in the view at Arches National Park.

Photo by Colleen S. Good.
Birdie Hawkins, 21, takes in the view at Arches National Park.

“It’s good that we don’t have a ski resort, because that would probably be the death of what we know of as Moab,” Syndor said. “But almost every demographic is growing—more mountain bikers, more jeepers, more rafters, more climbers, more people that are doing canyoneering—just more people in general.”

Some Tourism Demands Still Need Fulfilled

There are some things Moab still needs to develop to support its growing tourist trade.

“We’re probably short on restaurants here,” Myers said. “In season, if you go drop in at seven o’clock on a busy weekend, you’re going to be waiting a while.”

But the great land is the area’s best resource.

“We have a great deal of public land here. Nearly 70 percent of Utah is public land,” Crimp said. “Because of that, there’s a huge amount of terrain available.”

“It’s a beautiful place,” Syndor said. “It’s very easy to be amazed here.”

Making the Move: Ex-Tourists Move to Moab

That sense of wonder has driven some tourists to Moab to make the town their full-time home.

Living in Moab from Colleen Good on Vimeo.

Planning your own trip to Moab?

See 15 travel tips for your adventure here.

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