By Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune
Wilshire Boulevard is among Los Angeles’ busiest streets, traveled by millions in cars, on foot and on bikes. For two months in 2013, a composite image showing several iconic Utah landforms — think Delicate Arch and the Great White Throne — soared above the equally iconic street connecting Beverly Hills with L.A.’s commercial districts.
From the side of a 20-story building, the redrock scenery beckoned passersby to visit Utah’s “Mighty 5.”
That 238-foot-high “wallscape” was the start of the now famous and much-copied ad blitz touting southern Utah’s five national parks. The campaign’s spring 2013 launch — placed in television ads, building wraps, digital billboards, magazines and social media at a cost of $3.1 million — coincided with a steep increase in park visitation that has continued unabated ever since.
It was widely assumed that “Mighty 5” had a lot to do with that, and a new study by Utah State University economists confirms it: The campaign attracted an additional half-million visitors on average during each of the three years after the appearance of these ads in major Western cities within a long-day’s drive of Utah.
Although Utah’s park tourism had been rising since 2008, the state Office of Tourism initiated the aggressive multimedia push promoting Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks. These destinations are strung across southern Utah, each capturing different aspects of redrock country — from high-elevation plateaus to canyons incised through sandstone to bridges, towers, hoodoos and other gravity-defying formations.
But the campaign likely did little to push soaring visitation at Zion and Bryce Canyon, Utah’s two most crowded parks, according to the study’s senior author, Paul Jakus, a professor in USU’s Department of Applied Economics. Still, the study proves Mighty 5 was a huge success, for better or worse, and highlights the imperative for the state to adjust messaging surrounding Utah’s increasingly crowded redrock gems.