|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 17, 2009 - Michael Johnson ran for mayor of Centerville when he was 22. So he's ambitious.
He knows most Davis County legislators from working on political campaigns and managing Cable Channel 17 for the Davis Chamber of Commerce. Connected, too.
And one of the first things Johnson did in his new job as Utah Hotel & Lodging Association (UHLA) executive director was to establish a Twitter account for the organization. Technologically savvy as well.
These are attributes Utah's lodging industry sought as it looks to rebound from a recession-driven decline in occupancy levels and nightly room rates after a decade of Olympics-inspired expansion.
"The association chose Johnson because of his great energy, diverse background and unique skills," said UHLA President Lelia Neilson, who runs Utah State University's Inn and Conference Center.
"He brings a strong background in marketing, progressive ideas as well as a good sense of the political arena where he will be working."
The association has lacked that kind of personal contact with lawmakers, going through several leadership changes this decade. It relied this past year on management services provided by Pinnacle Marketing, whose contract was not renewed.
"We hope to be a lot more proactive in bringing up legislation that will protect the industry," said Johnson, now 26. "In the past, we just reacted to bills that came along."
As an example, the Viewmont High School
and University of Utah graduate said his industry believes it should be exempt from paying sales taxes on products, such as bars of soap and lotion, provided in hotel rooms whose nightly rental also yields sales tax.
Those complimentary items, Johnson contended, are no different than computers that manufacturers buy on the tax-free wholesale market.
"This would save the average hotel tens of thousands of dollars annually," he said.
Johnson also intends to enhance the UHLA's working relationship with other tourism-oriented industries. He specifically cited Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's 13 resorts, the Utah Office of Tourism and convention and visitors bureaus across the state.
"If we do our jobs well together, all of us benefit," he said. And these days, doing it well involves Web site development and the use of Twitter, blogs and other social networking options designed to attract more potential customers to UHLA members.
Davis Chamber of Commerce President John Pitt was Johnson's boss when he managed Cable Channel 17, the county's public education and government access channel. Although that position was eliminated when declining corporate sponsorships forced the county to outsource channel management, Pitt spoke highly of Johnson.
"He's young but ambitious, good at networking and building relationships with all kinds of people," Pitt said. "Michael has that 'Generation Y' savvy, knowledge of network connectivity, social media and fresh approaches to the state's effort to court active outdoor tourism."
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