By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s second largest industry — tourism — might be on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, but spring could be the best time for it to happen, according to the executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism.
“Springtime tends to be a slower time of year,” said Diane Shober. “Our winter destinations are slowing down as the snow thaws, but there’s still enough snow that our summer destinations haven’t usually started ramping up, yet.”
With officials nationwide still debating the right time to roll back travel restrictions, Shober said it’s too early to determine the overall impact to Wyoming tourism, but many events, such as Cheyenne Frontier Days, are holding out for the best.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Frontier Days stays on schedule,” Shober said.
As the state’s largest private-sector employer, tourism will be a key component of re-igniting Wyoming’s economy once stay-at-home orders dissipate nationwide.
“This summer will be critical,” Shober said. “This is an export economy. People coming here from other places helps offset our revenues across our cities, counties and state.”
In the meantime, the Office of Tourism is monitoring consumer data to determine when to start marketing again.
“What we’re trying to understand is the feeling of the consumer as it relates to travel,” Shober explained.
Gov. Mark Gordon, during a news conference Wednesday, said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is estimating a 20% to 30% drop in tourism.
“Our economy is going to be different from this day forward for a while,” he said. “People aren’t traveling, they aren’t flying the way they used to.”
Polls have shown the pandemic took a significant toll on the public’s desire to travel this summer, but a month or more of staying at home could change that, she said. To keep the Cowboy State on the minds of potential travelers, the Office of Tourism is focusing its social media messaging on positive messages to remind people the West still exists on the horizon.
“All of our efforts right now are very organic, focusing on virtual, armchair travel,” Shober said. “We’re using inspirational photographs and feel-good stories to remind people you can still dream about your travels.”
Plans to reopen Yellowstone National Park, one of Wyoming’s leading tourist destinations, are still up in the air, but Shober said many roads and services wouldn’t be open yet anyway because of park road conditions.
“Like us, park staff are playing it by ear,” she added. “There’s been no communication with us about if or when, but honestly, we haven’t pushed it. We know the timing is just not right.”
To help industry partners get through the slump, Shober said the Office of Tourism is coordinating resources with commercial lenders, relief organizations and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services as well as hosting webinars about how businesses can get the most out of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“We’re making sure we’re hearing what our industry needs and identifying what we’ll need to do next in a post-COVID-19 world,” she explained. “As people start to travel again, it’s not going to be like a light switch flipping back on. It will be more gradual, like a sunrise. That’s what we’re focusing on now.”