Wyoming Tourism Finally Winning In Digital Search Battleground Against Much-Better Funded States

Wyoming Tourism Director Diane Shober says Wyoming is finally winning the battle for travelers’ attention in a space that -- for a long time -- had Wyoming at the bottom compared to Montana, Utah, Colorado and Nevada.

Renée Jean

June 18, 20237 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

One of the things that’s been happening for years when Wyoming Office of Tourism Executive Director Diane Shober talks to state lawmakers about the advertising spend for Wyoming tourism is that one of them invariably does an online search, and Wyoming isn’t in the top 40 search results.

This year, though, that didn’t happen.

Instead, Sen. Mike Gireau, D-Jackson, told Shober he’d just done that search and Wyoming was near the top of the list.

“The bad news is, Montana came up first,” he said. “But we were, Wyoming was second and third. So, it seems like the investment is starting to pay off more, that we are actually getting that, and it’s not sponsored content, but just click content. So that seems to be working better.”

Shober was beaming at the news. It shows that Wyoming is finally winning the battle for travelers’ attention in a space that for a long while had Wyoming at the bottom of a long list of opportunities in other states around the West like Montana, Utah, Colorado and Nevada.

“I’m so happy you brought that up,” Shober said. “Because you can pay to be elevated. That takes a lot of money, too, and competitors are doing it.”

Over time, as more and more people discover Wyoming online content and click on it, that helps keep the Cowboy State at the top of an organic search list that money doesn’t buy, but is instead curated by a crowd of people who are collectively determining what the most valuable search engine results are.

“That comes simply by use,” Shober said. “That is more and more visibility, more clicking through, and that really is a result of paid (advertising) being put up, but also really creating ways and diversifying content to reach a broader audience that can resonate.”

No One-And-Done For Tourism

This year, Shober has a much larger budget to work with to stay at the top of that search list, which informs so many travelers’ decisions about where to spend their travel and vacation money.

That’s thanks to changing the Wyoming Department of Tourism budget from a General Fund allocation to a 3% statewide lodging tax. The revenue now supporting the office’s mission of elevating Wyoming tourism is $15 million more for the biennium, or about $7.5 million more per year.

That’s still not as much money as competitors like Colorado, Utah, Montana and South Dakota spend, Shober said, but it’s helping Wyoming have a fighting chance at keeping up.

That competition will never be a one-and-done, Shober added.

“We cannot take demand for granted,” she said. “Teton County is running about 15% down over a year ago. We have to keep pushing the Wyoming message and putting Wyoming in the forefront of the traveling consumer’s mind in order to generate the economy of tourism.”

The additional funding will also be used to beef up messages to those coming here to help educate them about dangerous behaviors like taunting bears, trying to pet elk, or stepping off trails in Yellowstone to take a dip in what turns out to be a deadly hot pot. 

Shober said the messaging will take a more direct and bolder approach to that of years past. Particular emphasis will be put on catching tourists before they arrive.

“Visitors want to do the right thing,” she said. ‘We just have to help them understand how and what that right thing is.”

Diversification Also key

Shober’s office will use $5 million of the additional funding for destination development across the Cowboy State in all 23 counties. 

Included in that effort is a five-episode series that will showcase adventure-packed paths across Wyoming, while also competing in physical Ford Bronco-based challenges.

Jimmy Chin, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who lives in Jackson, is now filming the series which began in Lander. There’s also three teams of influencers and travel bloggers involved as well.

They’ll be doing some epic road relays on approved trails, along with other activities and stories from modern-day explorers who will explain why they came to and love Wyoming.

“Imagine having a platform as big and bold as an American brand that sits at the heart of Americana as Ford to be with Wyoming,” Shober said.

The finished episodes will have wide distribution through Ford and the other influencers involved, but not all the tourism eggs are in one basket, Shober added.

“Another key component, rather than just paid media that we focus on a lot, is content development,” she said.

That’s going to include long and short video formats and segmented stories, some of them in a series format, that will work well on social media like Instagram and Facebook. 

“We are developing content in all 23 counties across Wyoming,” Shober said, to build awareness of the state’s lesser-known gems. 

Shober is also offering partnership opportunities to help buy down rates and expand reach.

“When you create a co-op opportunity, you can go places together that you cannot afford to on your own,” she said. “For example, looking at the Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board, they don’t have the budget to go to all of the places that they would like to go. And so, through the Office of Tourism, we’re buying down rates. We’re also putting that under the Wyoming brand.”

That helps get both high-level national exposure and visibility.

Tracking The Results

A component of all the marketing involves tracking the number of clicks and impressions to ensure the campaign is working as intended.

“The beauty of today’s marketing is that you can adjust on the fly,” Shober said. “If something isn’t working against those set goals that we want to hit, that we know will actually convert travelers, then we need to make adjustments to optimize that. And that’s what we’re continually doing.”

Impressions for this summer’s campaign already show more than 189 million impressions, for which the goal is 205 million.

Clicks, meanwhile, which reflect consumers interacting with the content and going deeper into that “intent to travel funnel,” are at 844,659, Shober said. 

“The total (goal) for the campaign is 910,000,” she said. “We are almost there. We will by far exceed (that) by the time the campaign is over.”

Conversions are tracked too, as is visitor spending. 

In 2022, the number of influence trips directly attributable to Wyoming’s ad campaign was 1.3, which Shober said is slightly less than 2019, but reflects growth and recovery over 2021.

“Of those 1 million trips, (there was) $1.2 billion in direct spending,” she said. “Those are visitors buying goods and services all across Wyoming. For places here in Evanston to Rock Springs, to Gillette, Cheyenne, Casper, Sheridan and all across the state.”

Measuring that against the $3.6 million national campaign for that year, every dollar spent in marketing realized $336 in visitor spending. 

“So that’s money that was returned to those communities,” Shober said. “The sales tax, just the 4% state sales tax generated off that $1.2 billion is $48.5 million. So, in state sales tax revenue, just off the $3.6 million for every dollar invested in the advertising campaign, it generated back $13.50.”

That doesn’t include any of the other sales and use taxes that are generated by the visitor economy, Shober added.

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter