updated 5/14/2009 7:26:29 PM ET 2009-05-14T23:26:29

State tourism officials say this year's winter advertising campaign generated more than $44 million in new tax revenue — a return of $20 for every $1 Utah spent.

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That's a more than 50 percent increase over last year's ad campaign, which saw $13 in new tax revenue for every $1 spent.

"We knew that our commercials were resonating in the marketplace because of the number of e-mails or people saying 'Hey, I saw your ads. They're so clever, they're so different, they break you out of the clutter,'" Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said Thursday. "But we certainly didn't expect to exceed any campaign we've ever done on return on investment."

This year's 30-second television ads were lighthearted, featuring people dressed as snowflakes auditioning for a selective snow judge. Only the premium snowflakes were chosen to be Utah powder.

Tourism is a growing, $7-billion-a-year industry in Utah.

While more visitors come to the state during the summer, winter is the most important time of year because skiers spend 176 percent more than other tourists here, according to the tourism office.

Research performed for the tourism office and released at the state tourism conference this week shows that tourists who visited the state this winter were more concerned about skiing and less interested in other vacation luxuries.

Visitors were less likely to stay in hotels or bring children and expenditures on shopping and fine dining declined, likely as a result of the recession, the research said.

However, the research shows the ad campaign was able to persuade additional visitors to make trips to the state, even if they were spending less than they usually would.

"Now more than ever, when we're demonstrating to the Legislature the importance of this program and how successful we can be with our marketing efforts, it is certainly reassuring," von der Esch said.

Tourism officials are now in the process of marketing the state as an affordable summer destination for families, including those who already live here.

"The bottom line is that our national parks are a very reasonably priced and attractive, affordable option for families and individuals to visit," she said. "So we're trying to create a compelling message for Utahns to not give up on having a memorable vacation and this is the place to do it."

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