Wyoming’s Fun, Quirky Small Towns Could Be A Big Draw For 2024 Tourism

Small Wyoming communities have an oversized opportunity to attract new visitors to their communities, thanks to the mood of travelers in 2024, according to experts and analysts at the 2024 Wyoming Governor’s Tourism and Hospitality Convention.

RJ
Renée Jean

February 27, 20246 min read

Participants make last-minute connections during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference.
Participants make last-minute connections during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

CHEYENNE — Small Wyoming communities have an oversized opportunity to attract new visitors to their communities, thanks to the mood of travelers in 2024, according to experts and analysts at the 2024 Wyoming Governor’s Tourism and Hospitality Convention.

Among the experts speaking to that was tourism expert and industry analyst Carol Rheem, CEO of the company Iolite. She has been tracking tourism and travel trends for 20 years, and her company’s mission is to create actionable data that tourism folks can use in planning winning marketing campaigns.

Rheem recalled how, just after the COVID-19 pandemic, people had so much enthusiasm and excitement for travel, that getting back into it was “like a pack of wild horses racing across the river. People couldn’t wait to start traveling again.”

But that sort of “revenge” tourism quickly settled down, she said. Now, they’re being more careful with the experiences they seek out, and they’re weighing costs a little more carefully now, in the face of high inflation.

But they haven’t curtailed spending completely. Unemployment remains low, and sentiment that the economy is doing OK in spite of challenges remains relatively strong.

What’s popping out of all of this for the tourism sector to pay attention to is a desire for up-close, undiscovered, quirky, immersive experiences — the kinds of activities a lot of smaller towns and communities already have on an undersold menu that’s begging for more attention, Rheem said.

“People want an adventure, they want to do things they’ve never done before,” she said. “That’s been nudging them to more exotic destinations, places that they’re less familiar with. But, the United States is absolutely huge, and there’s so many experiences that really do fit that mood that people are in right now. And Wyoming, I think, is a perfect example of that.”

Requests And Calls Are Already Up

The desire for smaller, more immersive tourism opportunities is something Jen Womack with Sagebrush Marketing, who handles marketing for Devils Tower Country, said she’s already seeing in her area.

“Our requests for visitor guides are strong, our website traffic is strong,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest, so we’re hoping for a really good year.”

Conversations, meanwhile, have already begun about how to cater to the audience that Devils Tower Country is seeing out there, that wants seeking these new and different experiences.

“We want to make sure they’re comfortable, and that they have what they need to figure it out,” Womack said.

The interest in new places and quirky destinations is exciting, RMI Digital Marketing PR Specialist Alyssa Winter told Cowboy State Daily, and it’s something she, too, has already been noticing.

“People are looking for lesser-known destinations than Yellowstone, and those are great locations,” she said. “But the counties that surround those national parks are what really drives home what Wyoming is, I think, and I personally enjoy that more than going into the park. I like seeing what’s outside.”

  • Carol Rheem talks about tourism trends for 2024. The mood of travelers now is for quirky, unusual and immersive experiences that connect with communities in a more personal way.
    Carol Rheem talks about tourism trends for 2024. The mood of travelers now is for quirky, unusual and immersive experiences that connect with communities in a more personal way. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Mallory Pollack mixes up an "Ice Palace," this year's Backwoods Distilling cocktail for the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Convention.
    Mallory Pollack mixes up an "Ice Palace," this year's Backwoods Distilling cocktail for the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Convention. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Chris McBarnes at Wyldlife For Tomorrow's booth at the Wyoming Governors Hospitality and Tourism Conference.
    Chris McBarnes at Wyldlife For Tomorrow's booth at the Wyoming Governors Hospitality and Tourism Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Berkeley Young, president of Young Strategies Inc., breaks down priorities for tourism and travel efforts in 2024 during the Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference.
    Berkeley Young, president of Young Strategies Inc., breaks down priorities for tourism and travel efforts in 2024 during the Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Visit Casper's Amanda Sewell collects a hat in exchange for her #ThatsWy and #GovCon24 tokens at the Wildly Wyoming booth.
    Visit Casper's Amanda Sewell collects a hat in exchange for her #ThatsWy and #GovCon24 tokens at the Wildly Wyoming booth. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Participants make last-minute connections during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference.
    Participants make last-minute connections during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Social Media A Game Changer

Part of what Winter sees driving the hunger for quirky destinations are social media influencers who are themselves highlighting lesser-known destinations for their followers.

“You’ve got all these new apps, and people on TikTok going and seeing these new places, and other people are starting to follow suit,” Winter said. “So (those smaller) destinations I think will be a hit in 2024.”

A smart social media plan can make that hunger for quirky, fun destinations low-hanging fruit for a world that’s craving connection, Dylan Scacchetti suggested during a panel discussion on family travel.

Family travel makes up almost 50% of travelers coming to Wyoming.

“Take advantage of your attractions,” he told a packed house at the 2024 Wyoming Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference at the Cheyenne Little America. “You all are experts, indigenous to the locations. You have connection with people who are subject matter experts. You can create and really tap into those family things to do topics and find things that are really unique about your area.”

Reaching out to local experts and linking to each other is one way to elevate each other’s content and make sure search engine metrics are working for everyone, he added.

“We want to make sure that we’re elevating each other,” he said. “We’re not an island. We’re all connected.”

That includes ensuring visibility for off-the-beaten path community attractions on apps like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Maps and the like.

People Aren’t Worried Any More

For a while, travel was oppressed by worries about getting sick again, but her data suggests that all of that is now in the rearview mirror for good, Rheem said.

“People are less concerned about the negative stuff,” she said. “Personal safety is still very important to them, but it’s just not quite as top of mind. And people are a little more adventurous. They want those new experiences, and they’re not going to be so worried about this stuff.”

At the same time, today’s travelers are becoming more mindful than many travelers in the past, Rheem said.

“They want to feel like they’re minimizing their negative impact on the world and being thoughtful about understanding that their money has power,” she said. “They want to go to places that are good actors, that are good to their communities, and that are thinking holistically about things.”

Given that, it’s important for dispersal efforts to the attractions at smaller communities take a thoughtful approach, keeping in mind how much capacity those alternative destinations really have.

“Sometimes when we’re trying to disperse people away from hotspots, you’re in essence putting pressure on smaller designations that don’t have that capacity,” she said. “So, the volume might not be huge, but it can be overwhelming for an individual (community) — you know, restaurants, and hotels, and tours and attractions — to suddenly take on all that volume.”

Successfully leveraging the desire for the fun and quirky and unusual in smaller communities can really help support the success of small businesses and underserved communities across the Cowboy State, Rheem suggested.

“It really isn’t a nominal opportunity,“ she said. “One thing that’s a challenge is how do we measure that? And even, you know, a few years into starting my company, I still don’t have easy answers for this. But I think it’s very much a focus for all of us, because ultimately this is the value that we create, bringing prosperity across all different walks of life.”

It was a packed house at the Cheyenne Little America on Monday for the Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference.
It was a packed house at the Cheyenne Little America on Monday for the Wyoming Governor's Hospitality and Tourism Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter