By Ellen Fike and Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Even though Cheyenne hotels and campgrounds rely on the Frontier Days Rodeo for a large part of their annual income, most contacted by Cowboy State Daily are allowing people to cancel or change their reservations in the face of the event’s cancellation.
“It wasn’t the customer’s fault,” said Dave Nelson, an owner of Cheyenne’s KOA Campground. “We didn’t feel we had a choice.”
In late May, officials with six major Wyoming rodeos including Frontier Days announced the events would be canceled for the year because it would be impossible to maintain social distancing among crowds during the events.
Frontier Days, one of the largest outdoor rodeos in the world, brings thousands of visitors to Cheyenne in the last full week of July, many of whom reserve their accommodations a year in advance.
Nelson said he and his family didn’t feel they could hold their customers, including several who have stayed at his campground for multiple years, to their reservations in the absence of Frontier Days.
As a result, he said he contacted all of the customers who had reserved spaces for Frontier Days and told them they could get a full refund for their stay, come to Cheyenne and stay on the same days at a lower rate or roll their reservations forward to next year.
Nelson said while many people accepted the refund, others decided to take advantage of the lower rate and stay on the dates they had planned this year.
The arrangement is the same at Cheyenne’s Little America Hotel, a popular option for lodging during the rodeo.
Bradley Cannon, the hotel’s front office manager, said Little America’s management didn’t feel it was fair to charge people the full rate when the rodeo was canceled.
“We recognize so many of our guests are coming year after year, we didn’t feel it was fair,” he said.
Little America is offering guests with reservations the option of canceling for a full refund, staying at Little America for reduced rates this year or rolling their reservations over to 2021.
Cannon said about half of the guests decided to move their reservations to next year, while about 25% decided to visit Cheyenne as planned and about 25% canceled their reservations.
A.B. Camping and the Red Lion in Cheyenne are also offering full refunds and Brandi Voigtsberger, sales director for Red Lion, said most are simply accepting the refunds.
“Some people are wanting to move reservations to next year’s, but we’re doing more refunds and just telling people they can reschedule when they’re ready,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s just the right thing to do.”
Jane Harrington, who owns A.B. Camping with her husband Mark, said all the people who had reserved spots for Frontier Days have canceled and been given full refunds.
“So anybody coming in during that time is a brand new reservation and those are pretty slim,” she said.
One campground’s policies against refunds have met with some criticism, however.
Pat Jenkins, a Rock Springs resident who said he reserved five spaces for four days at the Terry Bison Ranch’s RV park, said he was not able to get a refund, stay at the ranch for a reduced rate or move his reservations to next year.
Terry Bison Ranch officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but the ranch’s website does specify it does not grant refunds.
The website also shows that the ranch’s overnight rate for the RV park more than doubles during Frontier Days, from $48 per night to $110.
“Nobody’s booking reservations for CFD dates for two and one-half times the original prices just to stay at the RV park on the interstate,” Jenkins said.
He added his group will lose a total of $2,500 to $2,700 on the reservations and would have welcomed the opportunity to move its reservations to 2021, but was not given the opportunity.
“We’re upset because this is an act of God, this pandemic,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s not about the money, this is Wyoming, this isn’t how you treat people. It’s no one’s fault that this happened.”