Wyoming Tourism Spending Up $166 Million To $4.5 Billion For 2022, And Early 2023 Looks Even Better

Wyoming tourism has more than recovered economically from the COVID-19 pandemic with $4.5 billion in tourism spending in 2022. And 2023 is off to an even better start.

RJ
Renée Jean

May 03, 20237 min read

Tourism across Wyoming has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with 2022 tourism spending up $166 million over 2021 — and 2023 is starting off even better.
Tourism across Wyoming has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with 2022 tourism spending up $166 million over 2021 — and 2023 is starting off even better. (Getty Images)

Donuts are coming to frontline tourism employees in Sweetwater County and a trivia night is brewing in Casper. 

The sweets and treats are all part of statewide efforts to highlight the economic impact of tourism in Wyoming during National Travel and Tourism Week next week.

Travel, meanwhile, has returned in force to the Cowboy State, Wyoming’s Office of Tourism says, and now exceeds pre-pandemic levels on all economic benchmarks.

Direct travel spending, not adjusted for inflation, was $166 million more in 2022 year over year, according to the 2023 Tourism Impact Travel Report just released by Wyoming Office of Tourism. Adjusted for inflation, however, spending on travel-related goods and services was down 9% for 2022.

“As you look through the report and take highlights from it, it’s quite a comprehensive record to digest,” Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober told Cowboy State Daily. “But I look at it as what is the trend? Are we moving in the right direction?

“And the good news is that we have. We’re doing really well.”

The Yellowstone Effect

The report shows Wyoming had an estimated 7.5 million visitors in 2022, an 8.5% decrease over 2021. 

Shober attributes that dip to the historic flooding at Yellowstone National Park, which forced it to close for 10 days. Parts of the park had to remain closed after that for most of the summer. 

“People really worked hard to get (Yellowstone) open and really minimize the impact,” Shober said. “But it did have an impact.”

That impact wasn’t just concentrated around Yellowstone, either. 

“There’s a ripple effect,” Shober said, with many visitors planning stays in Wyoming communities that are on the way to Yellowstone, such as Casper in Natrona County and Cody in Park County.

$4.5 Billion Spent, 1,850 New Jobs

The visitors who did come, though, spent $4.5 billion in goods and services, a 3.8% increase year over year.

“That’s a lot of money being pumped into Wyoming’s economy,” Shober said. “And it’s predominantly nonresident visitors.”

In fact, about 72% of the total travel spend came from out-of-state visitors, while 1% came from foreign travelers. Foreign travelers usually make up 5% of travel spending, reflecting that that part of the visitor economy is still lagging a bit. The remaining 27% of spending came from in-state tourists.

The increased travel spending overall boosted jobs 5.9% statewide, adding 1,850 new jobs, for an overall total of 33,000. 

Most of the jobs, 57%, are in accommodations and food services, which grew by 6.8%. Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation, meanwhile, had the most growth at 7%, reflecting a gain of 540 jobs. The remaining additional jobs were almost all in retail. 

Sales and use taxes were also up 0.7% overall to $247 million, but state tax receipts declined by 0.9%. That was caused by visitors buying less fuel, the report says.

Growth in local tax receipts, however, grew 3.3%.

“So, I mean, all of these are pacing back to a recovered economy for the visitor economy and travel economy,” Shober said. “(Travel) is back into generating economic value, and those are the benchmarks we’re looking at.”

Teton Tops List, Followed By Laramie County, In Direct Spending

Topping the direct travel spending list by a wide margin was Teton County, with $1.654 million, which was 36.8% of the state total in this category. That represents a 5.9% increase year over year, despite the issues caused by flooding at Yellowstone Park for 10 days.

The next nearest in the big-spender category was Laramie County at $441.9 million, which was up 5%, displacing Park County for the second year in a row, which came in at $371.2 million, a contraction of 11.8%.

Natrona followed close behind Park with $349.6 million, a 12.6% increase. Then came Carbon County with $221.1 million — a 3.1% drop — and Albany County at $198.9 million, a 2.5% increase. 

The remaining counties direct spending, ordered by amount, are as follows:

  • Sweetwater $174.7 million, up 7.5%

  • Fremont $167 million, up 3.9%

  • Sheridan $157.9 million, up 10.5%

  • Campbell $139.9 million, up 14%

  • Uinta $101.6 million, up 1.6%

  • Lincoln $90.4 million, up 3.3%

  • Converse $69.9 million, up 12.9%

  • Johnson $63.6 million, up .5%

  • Sublette $51.8 million, down 6.9%

  • Platte $49.7 million, up 3.7%

  • Big Horn $38.1 million, up 7.3%

  • Crook $35.3 million, down 6.2%

  • Goshen $34.4 million, up 7.8%

  • Hot Springs $30.0 million, up 3%

  • Washakie $24 million, down 1.8%

  • Weston $22.6 million, up 2.5%

  • Niobrara $10.5 million up 5.4%

Wearing Shades For 2023

Meanwhile, counties across Wyoming are not resting on any laurels. They are gearing up and making plans to have a 2023 like no other.

VisitCheyenne’s Domenic Bravo told Cowboy State Daily he expects Laramie County numbers will be driven to new heights by the return of several pre-pandemic events. Those are being layered over the top of successful new events that were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our first quarter in 2023 is already outpacing 2022,” Bravo told Cowboy State Daily. “A lot of our signature events are coming back now, and we’ve just added enhancements to them.”

Among these enhancements will be a dedicated whiskey for Hell on Wheels, a relatively new event that was created during the pandemic. Ticket sales for the event were up 50% year over year, Bravo said, and the event is attracting people from 23 states and four countries. 

“Our live, farm-to-table events are coming back,” Bravo added. “And we’re actually here with a couple of additional ones.”

Fridays on the Plaza, Edge Fest, the Wyoming Brewers Festival and Cheyenne Frontier Days are also on the horizon, Bravo added. 

Up All Over

In Natrona County, VisitCasper’s Tyler Daugherty told Cowboy State Daily it’s also tracking higher on local indicators for the first quarter of the 2023 calendar year. The fiscal year, meanwhile, which ends in June, is on track to set a new record. 

“We’re very close to exceeding $2 million in lodging tax receipts, which would be the first time Natrona County has ever done that,” he said. “I have just been kind of taking a poll around the room and events that have been around are doing better than they did the year prior.”

Some of the upcoming events include the College National Finals Rodeo which includes the popular music festival Nick Fest the last weekend. Then in July, there’s the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo, followed by the 5150’ Festival in August.

Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism CEO Jenissa Meredith told Cowboy State Daily that lodging taxes there are up 15% year over year, and that spring has already brought more visitor traffic to welcome centers year over year, indicating robust travel plans for 2023.

“Tourism is thriving in Rock Springs and Green River,” she said. “Our Flaming Gorge Bus Tours have been very successful. This summer we are hosting 13 public tours and 10 private tours. Sales are up by double as compared to last year.”

Sweetwater County expects to host more than 700 events in 2023, Meredith added, including the International Airstream Rally in June and Wyoming State 3A and 4A soccer tournaments in May.

Shober said the optimism local county indicators are generating is also borne out by some of the indicators the state tracks, like advanced reservations at lodging facilities and ticket sales for events like Cheyenne Frontier Days. 

“I equate it to a jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “You don’t have all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but you have enough there that you can start to get an indication of what the overall picture is. So, you know, things look good. I’m always cautiously optimistic.”

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter