So Far Record-High Gas Prices Not Affecting Wyoming Tourism

Even though gas prices in Teton County hit $5.18 this week, the record-high prices haven't affected tourism in Jackson or anywhere else in the state.

Wendy Corr

May 26, 20225 min read

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The average gas price of gas in Teton County reached $5.18 per gallon this week, but those rising prices don’t seem to be discouraging visitors from driving their RVs and campers to various Wyoming communities.

Around the state, members of the tourism industry told Cowboy State Daily that they are expecting tourism numbers to rival last year’s records despite skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Campgrounds and hotels in Cody have reported reservations outpacing even last year’s record numbers. 

Robin Blessing, whose family owns the Ponderosa Campground in Cody, said despite a slower start than expected, reservations for the summer are filling up fast.

“We’ve had two cancellations, and that’s from people in California because of gas prices,” said Blessing. “But then after Memorial Day weekend, it’s just – with all the 150th birthday (of Yellowstone National Park), there’s a lot of reservations.”

Gas prices in California this week are averaging $6.06 per gallon – significantly higher than Wyoming, where the average price was $4.30 per gallon as of Wednesday. 

Prices for diesel, which many RVs and pickups use, are higher yet – $6.57 in California, and $5.47 in Wyoming, according to the AAA website.

All’s Good

But Shawn Parker, director of the Sheridan County Travel and Tourism Office, told Cowboy State Daily that the visitor center there has seen an increase in traffic, even over last year.

“All the metrics that we record and track, we’re up over last year even when fuel prices were significantly lower,” said Parker. “So we’re cautiously optimistic we won’t be affected negatively by fuel prices.” 

On Monday, Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins told a crowd of business people in Cody that “there is no correlation between visitation and gas prices.”

“Grand Teton and Yellowstone actually have social scientists now,” Jenkins said. “And talking with them, it’s interesting to learn that there is no correlation between visitation and gas prices. So we are not expecting that visitation will be affected by gas prices. What we are expecting is that people, their spending may change.”

That’s information that Blessing heeded when it came time to stock up on souvenirs for the Ponderosa’s gift shop.

“They’re cutting back,” said Blessing. “Not eating out at as many restaurants, or not eating at more expensive restaurants and not buying as many souvenirs.”

Some Concern

Parker pointed out that if fuel costs continue to rise, that may affect the tourism industry down the road.

“Of course it’s going to have some effect over the long term if they don’t start to come down,” he said, “but it’s all part of the bigger travel puzzle.”

And that puzzle includes air travel. 

In Jackson, the community’s spring tourism has been affected dramatically by the closure of the Jackson Hole Airport for runway reconstruction. The latest lodging report compiled by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce showed hotel occupancy at 33.1% in April, compared to 48.3% the previous year. 

Parker noted that because of high jet fuel prices, airline travel could take a hit for visitors flying to Wyoming.

“It’s probably never been this expensive to fly domestically with the cost of fuel for the airlines,” he said. 

But, he countered, that won’t stop people who are determined to vacation in the state.

“Folks still want to get out,” he said. “They still want to vacation. If they can’t fly somewhere, the next best alternative of course is going to be to drive.”

Group Tours

The industry that is likely to take the biggest hit, Parker said, would be tour companies, which utilize diesel-fueled buses. Scores of buses come through northern Wyoming daily, traveling between the Black Hills and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – and Parker said that’s an industry that his office is keeping an eye on.

“The places that are being affected are the ones who have group tours,” he said, “so the price of fuel for a big bus is going to be significantly higher than someone who’s just on an independent trip.”

And the international travel market is on the rise, despite rising fuel costs.

“We’re not seeing a dip in folks coming over from Europe,” Parker said. “Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re seeing huge demand across the board.” 

“Likely, people are going to continue to come,” Jenkins said, “but what they spend their money on may be different. So we will see how that plays out here over the next couple of months.”

“We’ll probably end up being busier than last year,” Parker predicted.

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Wendy Corr

Features Reporter