Salt Lake City uses Facebook contest to get you psyched

The #1 Fan Sweepstakes for the Salt Lake City CVB’s Facebook fan page kicked off on January 15, 2010 and runs until February 12, 2010. The goal is to get the number of fans pumped up to 5,000, while giving potential visitors information about everything Utah: from skiing to genealogy to Mormonism to convention business. Already, the number of fans has almost doubled — from 1,200 to 2,200 — indicating that the new Facebook push is working.

This is a trend that’s becoming increasingly common: travel companies and destinations are turning to Facebook to promote themselves and attract tourists. Recently, JetBlue and the Mexican Council for the Promotion of Tourism kicked off Facebook programs to attract interest and (hopefully) generate the sort of interest that will help them overcome the severe travel industry slump that we’ve been coping with for more than a year now. For Salt Lake City, which has been executing an aggressive media campaign, the move into social media isn’t at all surprising.

According to Inside Facebook, the #1 Fan Sweepstakes isn’t the first push that the Salt Lake City CVB has made on Facebook. Rather, it reflects the lessons learned from previous efforts. Says Shawn Stinson, Director of Communications for the CVB, “We started with a number of different Facebook fan pages: ski, visit, genealogy, meetings, and that didn’t work. It was too littered. So we went to simply Visit Salt Lake.” The straightforward approach is anchored in this new initiative. According to Stinson, “This contest in particular is being used to drive an increase in our fan base because we are looking to distribute more and more information via Facebook.”

The grand prize is a ski trip for two that is packed with extras beyond airfare and lodging: ski passes and a FLIP video camera are included, and the winner is expected to shoot video for a blog about the trip. Other prizes include a set of Dynastar skis and bindings, a two-day Ski Salt Lake pass valid at any of the four resorts in Salt Lake and 20 Ski Salt Lake belt buckles and t-shirts.

Are you a fan of Gadling on Facebook yet?

Tours of polygamist cities now available

If you were in Hildale, Utah or Colorado City, Arizona yesterday, it was either because (a) you live there or (b) you were taking the first tour of polygamist country. Former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints members Richard and Heber Holm, brothers, have launched four-hour tours of the two towns that are controlled by the largest FLDS community in the United States. Of course, don’t expect much interaction from the locals.

These two towns are known for being uncomfortable with outsiders, given their beliefs and the interaction they have with law enforcement officials – which stems from their practice of plural marriage and a history of sexual assault charges (to which the group’s leader, Warren Jeffs, was convicted in 2007). Jeffs’ church has maintained control of the towns’ economies and governments, with the FLDS staffing the police department, schools and public offices with like-minded employees.

Now, you can step into this isolated world, learn about the belief system you’ve seen on HBO’s Big Love and even talk to people who once lived in the towns. Richard Holm was exiled from the community in 2003 by Jeffs, while his brother left the twin towns35 years ago.

It doesn’t come as a shock that the FLDS is not excited about this new development. Its spokesman, Willie Jessop, a member of a prominent family in Hildale and Colorado City, calls it a scam.

Want to know what another member of the Jessop family thinks? Find out after the jump.

Drinking in Utah no longer for members only

Four decades after making it difficult to get a drink, Utah realizes that buying liquor involves spending, too. Last week, the state decided to allow liquor to be sold to anyone with a valid form of ID. For the past 40 years, getting a drink has involved becoming a member of a private club – which required an application and a fee.

The cost of tradition, it seems, is $7 billion – the amount Utah pulls in from tourism every year. Officials figure they can add to that number by selling wine with dinner, among other liquors and situations.

You know what … it just might work.

I know a lot of people by liquor in New York, and I vaguely remember seeing people in Boston, Washington and Chicago spending cash on booze, too. It happens from coast to coast, as of July 1, 2009 without exception.

The private club rules that are now assigned to history were not particularly severe, but it’s not hard to see how they could become a pain in the ass. Annual membership fees started at $12, and you needed a separate membership for each bar. Tourists could buy temporary memberships, starting at $4 for three weeks, but they could only bring up to seven guests into a bar with them.

Hotels built the membership fees into their room rates, so they could drink at the hotel bars without fear of misstep. Bars that served only beer didn’t require memberships.

Yeah, you need needed a chart to keep the various rules straight. Now, it’s pretty easy. Belly up to the bar and order yourself a shot!

Activist calls for Utah boycott after California passes Prop 8

We’ve noticed a sharp drop in the cost of traveling to Utah — could it be because the state is trying to hedge against a tourism boycott for its role in the recent elections? It wasn’t Utah’s doing, exactly, but the Mormon Church, which makes up over 60% of Utah’s population, poured millions of dollars and hours of grassroots campaigning into passing California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state.

Activist and blogger John Aravosis of blames Utah Mormons for taking away rights, and suggests that a boycott of Utah tourism is a good way to show dissatisfaction for the LDS church’s role in passing Proposition 8. He’s calling for skiers to choose anywhere but Utah this winter, and he’s even urging Hollywood to back out of the annual Sundance Film Festival, which makes up a huge part of Utah’s $6 billion annual tourism income.

While gay rights groups have not yet weighed in on the idea of a boycott, other individuals and websites are latching onto the cause, and the backlash against the Mormon Church and the state of Utah by extension has been intense. Aravosis and his supporters can’t reasonably expect to change the church’s view on gay marriage, but he says he intends to go after the “Utah brand,” calling it a “hate state.” He does not call for a boycott of California, saying “the Californians are the victims and the Mormons are the persecutors.” A boycott may not get Utah Mormons to change their minds about gay rights, but Aravosis hopes it will at least get them to stop trying to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of the world.