By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily Publisher
During the course of my Wyoming business career, our companies have published and distributed over four million magazines promoting tourism in the Cowboy State.
My first magazine was started in 1970 called Big Mountain Country that sang the praises for Fremont County, home of the biggest mountains in the state.
Flash ahead 50 years, and I am attending the annual Wyoming Governor’s Tourism Conference in Cheyenne. Hundreds of members of the 30,000-plus people who work in the hospitality industry were there.
Over the years the tourism industry has faced many threats, the Yellowstone fires of 1988, come to mind. This year the Coronavirus will cut into Asian tourism. Up to now the threats to the state’s second largest industry have come from outside sources.
In a crazy twist, the biggest danger to the industry this year is coming from within – from some members of the Legislature. Because of tight money concerns, some outspoken elected folks think we are spending too much money promoting the state.
Actually we are lagging behind our neighbors. And we have a lot to lose by such crazy thinking.
A small amount of money spent with the state tourism department generates much more money – it is as simple as that. The more people we get here the more money they spend. That outside money circulates around our communities. It is a win-win.
One legislator even suggested getting rid of the state’s WOT (Wyoming Office of Tourism) and actually heard a few shouts of encouragement in the State Senate. You can’t make this stuff up.
A few decades ago Colorado got rid of its tourism department, which was a disaster. It took years for them to get it restored and then even more years for their hospitality industry to recover. They never tried it again.
In the past six months, the energy economy in Wyoming has taken some serious hits leaving folks from Gillette to Rock Springs and Cheyenne to Lovell nervous and pessimistic.
Gov. Mark Gordon has responded by saying he anticipates implementing budget restraints.
But all is not so dim when it comes to the state economy.
In fact the one aspect of Wyoming’s economy that is bright is so bright, it is positively blinding.
Tourism, the state’s number-two industry, has never seen years like 2015-2019.
More than 10 million people annually visited the Cowboy State. Yellowstone National Park now hits 4 million, which is a staggering number.
All these visitors spent a staggering $3 billion with motels, gas stations, gift shops and restaurants. In 2005, the total was $2 billion. This industry is really growing at a steady pace.
Tourists spend money in all parts of Wyoming. There truly is no place that does not benefit from the visitor.
Grand Teton Park and Jackson Hole are increasing. Even places like Fossil Butte near Kemmerer are up 10 percent, which shows the growth of cultural tourism.
All these tourists paid over $160 million in local and state taxes during 2019, which is an amazing number. Sales taxes, alone, are up over 10 percent.
The state’s investment in new welcome centers is paying off with increases in visitation.
During the recent tourism conference, members of the industry were warned the 2020 Legislature might try to cut the marketing budget of the tourism department because of the afore-mentioned dip in state revenues,
My advice to them would be to do just the opposite. If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?
Wyoming’s tourism industry is supported on a three-legged stool of state spending, local county lodging board spending and industry spending. Our state is the envy of the country and it is obviously why – it is working!
It is mind-boggling that every so often we hear some shrill opponents who decry spending state money on tourism promotion. They are simply wrong. This is a program that works very well. We all need to get behind it and try to grow it even more.
Tourism as the state’s number-two industry boasts 31,000 jobs. As an industry, it creates new jobs in the rapidly disappearing middle class sector.
Tourism is great for Wyoming. Spending money to promote it is good for everyone. That’s WY!