Editor’s Note â¢ This story is only available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Four years ago, the biannual Outdoor Retailer show left Salt Lake City angry with Utah’s stance on public land management, especially its hostility to national monument designations.
Upset at Utah’s efforts to pressure then-President Donald Trump to erase the Bears Ears National Monument, industry executives pushed the show’s owner, Emerald Expositions, to to bail out Salt Lake City after a 20-year run that had been a boon to both the city and the show, which drew 45,000 people who contributed $ 40 million to the region’s economy.
As of 2018, the show has been held in Colorado, where the political climate is more to the liking of the companies that make camping gear, climbing gear, and outdoor clothing – and the retailers that sell it.
The monument is now back, by order of President Joe Biden. Will Outdoor Retailer, or OR, also come back to Utah? Denver’s contract to host the event expires at the end of 2022, and some industry insiders are wondering if the show would be better off in Hive State. Salt Lake City’s nightlife and dining may not be on par with Denver, but costs are lower and access to recreation sites is much better.
Utah’s capital is the only city in the country that can accommodate 30,000 conventioneers, but it’s also close enough to recreation venues for those attendees to enjoy the outdoors, according to Tom Adams, who headed the Recreation Bureau. outdoor station in Utah when the show retired in 2017.
Prior to his government service, Adams was an operating theater exhibitor as an employee of French gearmaker Petzl.
âI can’t tell you what a great relationship I’ve had with the people I’ve been able to ski, ice climb or rock climb with around the living room as opposed to going to dinner,â Adams says. , who returned to work for Petzl as part of its operations in the United States. âIt’s so much nicer to connect with someone while recreating yourself. You can’t do it in Denver.
Visit Salt Lake confirmed it had developed a proposal to host the show at Salt Palace from 2023, but declined to discuss it. Other cities in the running, in addition to Denver, are Anaheim, California; Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas.
Show director Marisa Nicholson said there are many factors that will come into play in a final decision, including the opinions of outdoor industry representatives who were interviewed.
âEasy access to the outdoors is also extremely important to our community,â she said. âThe magic of Outdoor Retailer is that it goes beyond business. It’s about unifying the industry so that we can collectively improve the outdoor experience.
The Outdoor Industry Association, the trade group that lobbied for the release of OR from Utah, has made no one available for an interview for this story.
Governor of Utah makes his pitch
Utah Governor Spencer Cox added his voice to the discussion with a video love letter to leaders in the outdoor industry, begging them to return home to Salt Lake City. His post highlighted the advances in Utah’s hospitality industry, which can be attributed to the OR show.
âOf course your salon has also seen incredible growth during this time, and I’d like to think we’ve played a very positive role,â Cox said in his video. âWe have missed you for the past few years and we have made some improvements while you were gone. “
Outdoor recreation is at the heart of the Utah brand and state leaders, including Cox, have highlighted it by attracting tech employers to the Wasatch Front. According to data cited by state officials, it represents $ 12 billion in economic activity, employs 110,000 people and generates $ 737 million in tax revenue.
In his video, the governor highlighted the $ 4 billion Salt Lake City airport upgrade and the 700-room Hyatt Regency under construction near the Salt Palace, where the show has been on for years.
“And we are working with key stakeholders and the Home Office to establish sustainable ways to manage Bear Ears National Monument and other cherished public lands,” Cox said. âThe outdoor industry is important to Utah, and the outdoor retailer show is important to Utah. We invite you again and we will take great care of you.
Eh? Cox’s immediate predecessor Gary Herbert basically told the industry to take a hike if they didn’t like Utah’s public land policies.
Times and attitudes have changed since then, but Utah’s political leaders and the outdoor industry remain miles apart over land management controversies.
Why return to Salt Lake City?
And that’s okay, says Kenji Haroutunian, who ran the OR show from 2007 to 2014. He thinks the outdoor industry would likely have more influence on Utah politics if it held its more. large trade show in Salt Lake City.
âIt’s a philosophical question: do you want a seat at the table to speak in Utah? Says Haroutunian, who helped launch a new outdoor trade show in Utah this year.
“How much influence does the outdoor industry have on Utah politics now?” Not that much because you took your ball and walked away, âhe says. “It would be better to stay and engage and be able to share points of view.”
He hopes to steer the debate towards maintaining the vitality of the industry and promoting outdoor recreation as a means of improving people’s mental and physical health and economic prospects.
âIt’s part of the fabric of the state. It’s a paradise, âsays Haroutunian, based in Southern California. âWe can discuss land management, but in the meantime let’s make sure the industry is healthy.
The show’s return to Utah largely depends on the preferences of members of the outdoor industry, and convenience may end up playing a bigger role than politics. Nicholson staff gathered feedback from all aspects of the industry, including brands and retailers of all sizes, product representatives, nonprofits and the media.
âWe surveyed the industry this summer to assess both the location and timing of the summer and winter show,â she said. âFrom preferred locations, we work with cities to find dates that match preferred time frames, leaving plenty of time to move in, put on the show, and relocate. We also work with local hotels and assess other resources needed to create the best opportunity for everyone to have a successful experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the trade show industry as industries have struggled to adjust to life without large gatherings. OU was no exception.
âOutdoor recreation has seen tremendous growth throughout the pandemic, which has been great for our industry. At the same time, we’ve all learned to work in new ways in order to stay connected and reach the growing consumer base, âNicholson said. âAs the digital space continues to streamline the way we do business, we are incorporating new opportunities in conjunction with in-person shows, such as online matchmaking and year-round content through our magazine. “
OR resumed operations in August at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver with about a quarter of the attendance it saw at the show’s pre-pandemic peak in 2019.
âWhile a larger portion of the outdoor community wanted to attend, not everyone could at the time. Now, with international travel opening next month, and as we continue to weather the pandemic, we expect 2022 shows to see more brands and retailers ready to come together again, âNicholson said. . “People are gradually moving around the world, realizing the benefits of face-to-face conversations and the impact of live events.”
But Haroutunian, Nicholson’s predecessor as the show’s director, believes the drop in attendance may be part of the trend, rather than just a fender-bender.
âBig trade shows can disappear overnight. Once they lost their momentum, they struggled to come back or didn’t come back, âHaroutunian said. âIt feels like investing in an outfielder who is past his prime as a player. Past strength and prowess are no guarantee of future returns. “
This year, Haroutunian helped launch what he sees as the future of outdoor trade shows in Utah.
Held annually in Deer Valley, the Big Gear Show represents a new direction in trade shows. It takes place entirely outdoors and combines cycling and paddling – sports no longer on the OR show menu – with other outdoor activities. It is also much cheaper to attend. Indeed, the promoters of shows take care of the accommodation of the participants.
âIt’s an experiential event based on participation,â said Haroutunian. âInstead of wandering around an indoor setting, you can throw your leg up on a bicycle or light a stove to see if it can simmer or not. You can really do more to figure out the equipment, play with it, get it dirty, dirty and wet it and see what happens.
Salt Lake City should have many advantages over Denver for hosting an outdoor industry show regardless of the show structure.
Other observers wonder if the OR show has run its course and if it’s time to reconsider whether such massive gatherings are really serving the outdoor industry well.
âOutdoor recreation is a low-margin business. Most people are there for the passion, âHaroutunian said. âThey love to be outside. They like to participate. They try to maintain their lifestyle by being in the business. A trade show should reflect this business environment.