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Explore Utah Valley celebrates 20 years of regional promotion

By Nichole Whiteley - | Aug 17, 2023
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Partners of Explore Utah Valley converse with one another at the organization's 20-year anniversary event on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, at Pioneer Park in Provo.
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From left, Charlene Christensen, director of services and marketing for Explore Utah Valley; Joel Racker, former director of Explore Utah Valley; Utah County Commissioner Brandon Gordon; Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi; Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner; and Lee Adamson, executive director of Explore Utah Valley, attend the 20-year anniversary celebration for Explore Utah Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, at Pioneer Park in Provo.
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Cupcakes are handed out to partners of Explore Utah Valley to celebrate the organization's 20-year anniversary at Pioneer Park in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023.
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Lee Adamson, seated, shakes hands with a partner of Explore Utah Valley at the organization's 20-year anniversary celebration on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, at Pioneer Park in Provo.

What started with a small visitor center run by the county has evolved into an organization that has over 1 million visitors on its website annually. Explore Utah Valley celebrated its 20 year anniversary on Tuesday with a lunch at Pioneer Park in Provo for all of its partners.

The event reportedly had the largest turnout of any previous summer gathering EUV has held. Among those attending were people representing hoteliers, attractions, events, state parks, cities, restaurants, businesses, the Utah Valley Convention Center and more.

EUV is a nonprofit organization that provides tourists and residents with information about what there is to do in Utah Valley, with a goal of bringing more tourism to the region. The group promotes businesses and events on its website; has guides to the best restaurants, places to stay and things to do; provides a calendar of events happening in Utah Valley; and has resources for planning an entire itinerary for a stay in Utah Valley, including weather, airport information and deals.

Charlene Christensen, director of services and marketing, said that when traveling, “You want to visit those unique things and those unexpected things that bring you joy and bring you the experience that is something that you’ll always remember.” Those memorable experiences are what EUV has been providing for the last 20 years, she said, and will continue to provide for years to come. “We’re the directors of fun for Utah County.”

Brandon Gordon, Utah County Commission vice chair, said the work EUV does for the community, especially through its videos promoting the area, “helps the world realize that Utah County is really a first-class place to live, work and raise your kids. If we don’t tell our story, then somebody else is gonna try, and they (EUV) do it with such tact and professionalism that makes it so amazing.”

Looking back

Utah County’s Department of Economic Development used to be over all things tourism. But in 2003, Joel Racker, at the time working in Las Vegas for the Marriott hotel chain, was selected to serve as the first president of what would become Explore Utah Valley.

The organization was established as the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. It wasn’t until 2012 that a rebrand resulted in a name change and move to the convention center.

According to Christensen, EUV was created to be separate from the county to better “generate and escalate the economic impact from the hospitality industry.” Doing this, she said, made it possible to bring more business into Utah Valley and bring awareness to the small businesses, events and attractions that are unique to the valley.

Racker was with EUV as the president for 18 years before his position was eliminated during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of funding. Another loss caused by the pandemic was the closure of a visitor center, which the group also assumed control over from the county in 2003. All travel and tourism information is now available online at https://www.utahvalley.com.

Since Raker was let go, Lee Adamson has been the executive director for Explore Utah Valley. Before Racker left, EUV had downsized from 13 employees to about five, and then down to Adamson, Christensen and one other employee. Since then, EUV has grown in size, hired back many of the employees let go during the pandemic and been able to expand its impact in the community. “I have a ton of confidence in what Adamson and Christensen and the team are doing there (at EUV),” Racker said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for EUV in downsizing its staff and seeing a decline in tourism, Adamson said that time also proved how essential tourism and EUV is to the community.

There are around 65-70 independently owned restaurants in downtown Provo, and during the pandemic many struggled to stay open. However, while many states completely shut down, Utah Valley never fully closed during the pandemic, when youth sports of every kind came here. Adamson said families would stay for weeks at a time so children could continue playing. “Quite honestly, those groups kept our hotels and our restaurants afloat during that time. It was a really hard time for them but the youth sports really were a big part of keeping our local businesses busy,” he said.

EUV brings tourists to Utah Valley by making them aware of the attractions, events and amenities the county provides. They also work with hoteliers, restaurants and conventions to bring guaranteed tourism to the community.

When tourism is frequent in Utah Valley, Adamson explained, it brings in tax revenue, which funds EUV to continue promoting Utah Valley. The tax money also pays for amenities within the community that residents can enjoy.

In addition, Gordon said the more tourism tax dollars that are generated from hotels, eateries and local shops, the less the county has to rely on other taxes from Utah Valley residents. According to Adamson, tourism in Utah provides $1,647 in tax relief per household annually.

Adamson strongly believes there are many restaurants and businesses that residents enjoy that would likely not exist if there was not tourism in Utah Valley. ” It (tourism) basically creates a better quality of life for the residents who live here,” he said.

One of the ways EUV has worked to bring tourism into the valley is through pushing for the convention center to be built.

According to Racker, about 12 years ago, the county began analyzing if Utah County was truly a destination for conventions or if it was simply for leisure travel. Racker worked with county commissioners to conduct a study to see if demand for a convention center existed. They found that tourism to the valley was comprised of around 70% leisure travel visitors and 30% sports groups or conventions.

Racker and others built a case justifying the construction of the convention center, and after it was running, the numbers flipped to 60% convention and 40% leisure travel.

“I think the No. 1 thing I was proud of being involved in is getting that convention center built,” Racker said.

Looking forward

Now, instead of a visitor center building, EUV operates via its website to connect with a much larger population of people inside and out of the state than ever before.

“We’re excited to be celebrating our 20 years, but we also know that there’s always ways to look for additional opportunities and additional partnerships and we have a lot more growth to achieve, which is exciting because every day can be a new day,” Christensen said, adding that it is a joy to meet new businesses, new hoteliers and people just walking down the street.

EUV has grown from “a really small machine to something that’s more efficient and more granular with the ability to disseminate information in a wider way and developing the means to positively create change,” she said.

While EUV is focused on bringing people to Utah Valley, it also provides resources for residents. One of the newest events the group held this summer was a summer bucket list made specifically for residents. It continues until the end of August and provides free or inexpensive ideas for people to stay busy during the summer.

“It’s a great valley, and it has so much more than I feel like a lot of our residents realize as far as things that people travel from around the world to see and do here,” Adamson said.

EUV is also expanding its outreach through a virtual tour of Utah Valley on its website called SKYNAV. Another new project involves placing QR codes with murals around the city that lead to an itinerary of places and things to do nearby as well as a 360-degree view of where the user is. The QR code project is in progress with just two set up currently: one at the Provo Airport and one at the UCCU Center. Christensen said to expand this project, all they need is a wall or a window that a business will allow them to use. Then, EUV will create the mural with the QR code catered to the business’ needs at no cost.

Christensen said EUV can be thought of like an extension to marketing for businesses. Racker explained that since EUV is a nonprofit, it is able to apply for state funding for businesses, events, hoteliers or restaurants free of cost to the owners. Gordon said EUV works so well with other organizations that “they seem to just assist and bring everybody else to the top. It’s really cool.”

EUV offers their services to any business in Utah Valley. “We just want all of our businesses to thrive here and provide things for residents and visitors alike to do,” Adamson said.


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