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Salt Lake hopes to benefit from travel agents' meeting

Published: 09/08/2009
Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune -- The 600 travel agents meeting in Salt Lake City later this week aren't really coming to learn about Utah.

Their focus is expected to be on seminars the Travel Leaders company put together to help franchisees nationwide understand and react to trends in the struggling industry. Or on the chance to network with their counterparts from all around the country.

Still, the company meeting Thursday through Saturday at Grand America Hotel exposes Salt Lake City's attributes to the trained eyes of people who know what is important to the traveling public.

"Just having them here promotes Salt Lake," said Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They get to experience our hospitality, go to dinner at the Metropolitan or get a beer at Squatters. ... They'll get to see Salt Lake as a viable destination, overcoming the reputation of no night life, that there's nothing to do here, that there are goofy liquor laws."

Added Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism: "It's always great having a group like this in town, people who can help other people get here. We're hopeful their exposure to staying at Grand America, seeing the lovely weather we're having, can show them how beautiful our city is."

Beck said Salt Lake City's ability to attract groups such as Travel Leaders, formerly known as Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, has increased since the city was host of the 2002 WinterOlympics and owes a great deal to hotel owner Earl Holding's building of the Grand America for that event.

"This reflects the growing reputation of Grand America as one of the best meeting venues in the western United States," he said. "You can't host high-caliber meetings without a product like Grand America."

Steve Loucks, Travel Leader's vice president of communications, said Salt Lake City is the country's 36th most-booked domestic travel destination for the rest of 2009. But noting that his company's agents are more optimistic now than a year ago about prospects of business and leisure travel bouncing back, he predicted this week's meeting will serve Salt Lake well.

Morgan Nicholson thinks so, too. Her Murray-based company, Manassas Travel, is one of Travel Leader's three franchises in the Salt Lake Valley -- Destinations Inc. in South Jordan and Wycoff World Travel in South Salt Lake are the others.

"Any time you can bring something as big as Travel Leader to town and put the spotlight on Salt Lake, it drives people to this area," said Nicholson, who will attend the meeting with her mother, Paula Wild, who started Manassas Travel 20 years ago.

Nicholson plans to do her part spreading the word about Utah to out-of-town travel agents she meets.

Her message? "We've got it all here. We have the snow in the winter and beautiful weather in the summer and fall. You can find something to do every month of the year."