By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Airbnb and similar online short-term renting sites have “gutted” the hunting season business at a pair of Pinedale lodges, one of the owners said.
“The short-term online rental business, Airbnb and such, it has totally gutted our hunting business,” Forest Wakefield of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily. He’s a co-owner of the Gannett Peak Lodge and the Log Cabin Motel.
Previously, hunters would occupy most of the 19 rooms at the lodge and 12 kitchenette cabins at the motel this time of year, he said.
“Among all those rooms, I think I have one hunter right now,” he said on Wednesday – a day before many of Wyoming’s big game archery and bird hunting seasons were set to begin.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “People around town have always asked me about the hunters. The return of the hunters was one of those things that people looked forward to. I’m just not the person to talk to about that anymore.”
“I don’t think it’s that the hunters aren’t coming,” he added. “They’re just not staying at the hotels and motels.”
Audrey Odermann of Pinedale, who owns the Lakeside Lodge, agreed that hunters don’t seem to be a particularly big segment of fall business, and haven’t been for a while.
“To be honest, we have not historically gotten a lot of reservations for hunters,” she said Wednesday in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “That of course may change, but for now most of our fall is booked with corporate retreats.”
Guides Might Make A Difference
In Park County, hunters have been a segment of a jump in visitor traffic that usually starts after the Labor Day Weekend, Ryan Hauck of Cody told Cowboy State Daily. He’s the executive director of the Park County Travel Council.
“Our gateways in Thermopolis and Meeteetse seem to really benefit from the hunting season,” he said. “Here in Cody, we have some great outfitting and guide services, and they partner with the hotels.”
That’s because many hunters who travel from out-of-state need a room for a night before they meet up with outfitters and guides to venture deep into the backcountry of the Greater Yellowstone region, he said.
Wakefield agreed that guided hunters are more likely to rent rooms from him or other local motels in Pinedale.
“We do get some people who are connected to outfitters,” he said. “Those people will stay a night with us before they head out into the backcountry with their outfitter. What we don’t have much of anymore are the people who would stay with us for a week while they go hunt on their own.”
Out-of-state hunters must have a guide to hunt in any of Wyoming’s designated wilderness areas, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department regulations.
Non-Hunters Round Out Business
September after Labor Day is the second-busiest tourism month in Park County, Hauck said. Only July is busier.
“Once we get over the hump of Labor Day we see a lot of visitors,” he said. “We see the Baby Boomers, the empty nesters, the double-income-no-kids couples, and many international travelers. Basically, everybody besides the families with school-aged children.”
Wakefield said he still does brisk summer business with fly-fishing enthusiasts, backpackers and others. So, it could be a matter of attracting non-hunters during the fall.
“It (the decline in hunters’ rentals) won’t put us out of business,” he said. “But it definitely affects us. It affects our fall plans.”