By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Wyoming’s famous natural wonders – Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and Devils Tower National Monument – attract large numbers of motorists every year.
How to get those people to spend a little longer in communities along the way, however, is a multimillion-dollar question for Wyoming.
“If you can engage with the visitor who is already here, they’re likely to spend 30% more in the state,” Wyoming Office of Tourism’s Executive Director Diane Shober told Cowboy State Daily.
More Money To Work With
The state now has a little more money in its budget to put toward that multimillion-dollar question, with state lodging collections up 47%, as well as collections from the newly implemented 3% statewide lodging tax.
A significant portion of the additional funds collected will go toward replacing the General Fund appropriation that used to support the office, Shober said. The total appropriation for the Wyoming Office of Tourism is just over $38 million for the biennium, or roughly $19 million a year.
Of that, Shober said there’s roughly $2 million over the biennium to cast a wider national net for tourists, as well as $5 million to help tourism boards engage with motorists traveling through their communities.
Get The Word Out
The advertising component is particularly important, Shober said, because awareness of Wyoming tourism opportunities is falling behind states like Colorado, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana and Idaho for people who have not seen a Wyoming tourism ad.
“Nebraska is the only one that had a little bit less familiarity than Wyoming,” Shober said.
That rank improves to third place for those who have seen a Wyoming tourism ad.
“Colorado and Texas have greater familiarity than Wyoming among people who’ve seen the advertising,” Shober said. “We have a pretty big lift in order to remain competitive and continue to tell Wyoming’s story to inspire travel.”
But it’s the $5 million that has tourism boards particularly excited about what lies ahead.
A ‘Critical Intersection’
“We’re at a really critical intersection when people are traveling to and from the national park,” Sweetwater County’s Joint Travel and Tourism Board CEO Jenissa Meredith told Cowboy State Daily. “Interstate 80 and Highway 191 is really an ideal way for folks to travel to the national parks.”
What her county’s tourism efforts really need is money to develop infrastructure for more tourism products to better take advantage of proximity to that important intersection.
She’s also excited about the opportunity to participate in more national marketing of the area’s hidden gems like Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which is the largest reservoir in Wyoming.
“Part of it goes into Utah,” Meredith said. “But the majority is in Wyoming and, in 2021, we were able to gain All American Road designation for the scenic byway on the Wyoming part around the Flaming Gorge.”
That designation makes the road one of only 37 in the nation, and the second in Wyoming, with Beartooth Highway being the first.
“The All American designation is a huge improvement to our area, and it puts us on the map for really impressive scenic byways in the country,” Meredith said. “Promotion and added amenities around that byway will be one way we want to utilize those funds.”
Taking Roads Less Traveled
In Sheridan County, meanwhile, Sheridan County Travel Executive Director Shawn Parker wants to convince more motorists to take a road less traveled on their way to Yellowstone or Devils Tower.
“The back route, the historic route between Devils Tower and the Bighorns, that would go through Clearmont, Ucross — there’s some amazing stuff out there and most people don’t know about it,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s incredibly scenic.
“And you’re not going 85, 90 mile an hour from A to B through the plains. You’re going to sit and see some of the really beautiful countryside in the eastern part of our county, and then up in Campbell County.”
There are one-person towns like Spotted Horse along the way for some character, and historic towns like Clearmont, which also has what Parker said is one of the most important artist residencies in the nation, generating a few Pulitzer Prizes along the way.
“You have the Connor Battlefield State Historic Site, which is sort of a great midpoint between a lot of the major National Battlefield attractions just an hour north,” Parker added.
Visit Cheyenne’s Domenic Bravo, meanwhile, sees the funding as a way to speed implementation of the Laramie County Tourism master plan.
“Our actual lodging tax budget that just passed here last Tuesday gives us our core budget, so that allows us to do a lot of the things on the smaller scale within the tourism master plan,” he said. “But the partnership through Wyoming Office of Tourism can kind of take that to the next level with being able to actually implement some of the larger scale buildout of our tourism assets.”
Bravo sees that helping Laramie County more quickly create year-round, destination-level opportunities than could be done with the core budget alone.
“That’s what’s exciting about it,” Bravo said. “We built a plan that we’re partnering with the city of Cheyenne and the county and Pine bluffs and other places to be able to implement this as quickly as possible.
“But to actually have resources to put behind it is really a catalyst to get it done fairly quickly.”