Economic numbers released Tuesday by the Utah Office of Tourism show continued growth in Utah’s tourism industry, reaching $7.4 billion in traveler spending last year and employing 127,781 Utahns statewide.

These strong numbers set the backdrop for today’s meeting between the Governor’s Partnership for Rural Development and the Utah Office of Tourism in Richfield, Utah, where the two agencies will focus on developing an integrated strategy for improving the business outlook for rural Utah.

“The growth of Utah’s tourism industry over the past decade has improved rural economies, stimulated entrepreneurship and small business development, in turn, strengthening our rural communities,” Governor Gary R. Herbert said.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, tourism is a key job creator in rural Utah counties, employing 41.9% percent of the workforce in Garfield County, 35.6% in Grand County and 32.8% in Kane County.

“Visitors to the state contributed $960 million in state and local taxes last year,” said Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). “This new capital infusion is used to fund education, build roads and improve the quality of life for every resident.”

Tourist visitation to Utah hit an all-time high in 2012 with 23.5 million visitors enjoying Utah’s five national parks, 14 ski areas and scenic byways.

“As more visitors explore all corners of this great state, there is tremendous opportunity for economic development in Utah’s rural communities,” said Varela. “We’re proud to be working closely with our partners at GOED to fulfill the Governor’s initiative to bring lasting, sustainable jobs and economic development to all of Utah’s 29 counties.”

2012, Utah tourism by the numbers:

• Travelers and tourists spent $7.4 billion in 2012, a 7.8% increase over 2011.

• Last year, domestic and international visitation climbed 6.4% to 23.5 million.

• Travelers in 2012 contributed $960 million to state and local taxes, providing every Utah household with an estimated $1,076 tax relief.

• There are an estimated 127,781 tourism-related jobs statewide, a 3% increase from the year before.

• Utah’s Mighty 5™ national parks – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef & Zion – continue to draw visitors from around the world, topping 6.5 million visits in 2012.

• Utah’s 14 world-class ski resorts had more than 4 million skier days in 2012, up 6% from 2011

Sources: Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, National Parks Service, Ski Utah, D.K. Shifflett, Utah Office of Tourism, Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah

Six counties where tourism employs more than one quarter of the workforce:

Garfield: 41.9%

Summit: 38.5%

Grand: 35.6%

Kane: 32.8%

Wayne: 29.3%

Daggett: 28.9%

Source: Utah Department of Workforce Services