Wyoming Tourism Is Back: Visitors Spend $4.7 Billion In 2023

Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober said the tourism industry back on top as the state's number one employer providing 33,000 jobs. In 2023, visitors spent a record $4.7 billion -- a significant increase from 2022.

Renée Jean

February 28, 20247 min read

Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober talks about tourism trends during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Tourism and Hospitality Conference.
Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober talks about tourism trends during the 2024 Wyoming Governor's Tourism and Hospitality Conference. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Wyoming’s tourism sector has returned as Wyoming’s No. 1 employer, said Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober.

Jobs in the sector rose 2% year over year in 2023 to 33,000.

“We have now surpassed the 2019 level of jobs,” she told a crowd gathered for the second day of the 2024 Wyoming Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference on Tuesday. “So, thank goodness for that. We’re back, and really strong.

“And I just saw the reports for the month of January, and again, the leisure and hospitality sector led the state in advancing new jobs in that month alone.”

The number of hospitality jobs is just one of several metrics Shober is tracking that show the tourism industry in Wyoming is bouncing back stronger than ever.

Visitors spent $4.7 billion in 2023, Shober said, which is up 2.6% from 2022.

“Through the sales and uses taxes that are generated directly from the visitor economy, that’s offsetting what we as citizens have to pay,” she added. “That’s tax relief for us, $260 million in total taxes received, and that’s up 5.2%. That’s substantial.”

Visitor volumes were also up 1.7%, Shober said.

“So, what this says to us is exactly what we want,” Shober said. “We’re still increasing visitor volume, but we’re really increasing the impact of each and every one of those trips and those visitors.”

Building Smaller, Immersive Experiences

Among the focal points of the 2024 tourism game plan Shober is laying out will be continued emphasis on building the visitor economy in targeted areas where there is capacity for growth.

Looking at that effort in just the Big Horn, Washakie and Hot Springs area, those types of efforts have already helped drive a 6% increase in visitor share in 2023 versus 2021 figures, Shober said.

That will be something Wyoming Office of Tourism continues to target in 2024.

“That’s really how we grow the visitor economy, by taking areas where there’s this, you know, wide delta, and an opportunity and seizing that opportunity,” she said.

Another big focal point in 2024 will be efforts to return international tourism to the Cowboy State.

International tourism has particularly lagged behind other metrics, not just in Wyoming, but across the United States. Some of that has to do with the strength of the U.S. dollar, which is making it more expensive for some economies to come here. Some other countries were slower to open borders post-COVID-19.

Despite a number of challenges, Wyoming has made inroads on its goals to recapture international tourism through its Great American West partnership, Shober said.

“We’re actually pacing very well for estimated room nights,” she said. “We’re pacing at 54% of where we were pre-pandemic, and visitor spending is at 43%. We are anticipating, by the time we get these numbers updated, I think that we’ll be well ahead of that.”

Efforts to bring back international tourists will continue in 2024. One of the big sales pitches will be the International Roundup in Casper, which is a trade show that will be bringing European and Australian travel experts to the Cowboy State in April for an in-depth look at tourism opportunities in both the Rocky Mountain International and the Great American West partnerships.

Wyoming is one of five states in the Great American West Partnership. The others are Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Idaho.

The guests at IRU will be treated to all things West, including an immersive Oregon Trail ride, trips to restaurants and breweries, as well as visits to iconic Western shops and attractions.

“We’re glad to have that back in Casper in Wyoming,” Shober said. “And trust me, we’ll all be feeling the benefits of that as well.”

Wildly Wyoming Wildly Successful

The Wildly Wyoming campaign, which takes modern-day Wyoming explorers and lets them speak to what is special about the Cowboy State, has helped tell the story of Wyoming in new ways, Shober said.

“It’s been really moving, and even I learned things about Wyoming that I didn’t know, places that I wanted to see,” she said. “It took that beautiful intersection of product and consumer desire and values from the corporate world to a destination world and brought it together in a way that was really unique, and Wildly Wyoming has been a great program for us to elevate Wyoming with other partners in an arena that Wyoming deserves to be sitting there.”

The plan is to invest another $700,000 into a second iteration of the Wildly Wyoming campaign, starting next month and lasting through September, and bring in a couple more modern-day explorers: Arvid Aase, museum curator at Fossil Butte National Monument, and Elyse Guarino, co-founder of the Wyoming Rivers Cooperative.

Aase talks about his work as a museum curator, and all the cool fossils and the 57 million years of Wyoming’s story that are captured at Fossil Butte National Monument, while Guarino, an outfitter and guide, talks about how important water is to Wyoming, even though it is a landlocked state.

“Water is the source of life, and we need it for so many things,” Shober said. “Not just for tourism and recreation. … And helping people understand how important this resource is, not just to Wyoming, but to our planet, I think is an important way of engaging with visitors on a variety of levels.”

The campaign will include a miniseries featuring guides and outfitters as well, who will not only showcase their experience, but have compelling stories to tell.

“These reels will be distributed out on social media, captivating those audiences and followers to provide a comprehensive view of the Wildly Wyoming experience,” Shober said.

The campaign will also include an interactive component that challenges visitors to engage in a variety of activities and share pictures or video of them engaged in that activity on social media platforms for points. That actually launched at the Wyoming Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference.

Prizes include things like hats with Wildly Wyoming on them, while supplies last.

Tourism Budget On Target

The tourism budget, meanwhile, is so far whole at $39.562 million, Shober said. That figure still has to go before a conference committee that is working out a $900 million gap between Wyoming Senate and House versions of the biennial budget.

In addition to that figure, lawmakers have also given a thumbs up to $2 million for the 250th anniversary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence in 2026.

That money will be divvied up among Wyoming communities to plan activities and celebrations to commemorate the occasion.

There’s also a $150,000 line item for a feasibility study for a State Veterans Museum, and a $500,000 line item to support Air Races in Casper, which is a finalist being considered as the new venue for the former Reno Air Races.

That particular line item will only be activated if Casper actually gets the air races, Shober told Cowboy State Daily. Otherwise, it goes back to the General Fund.

“So that’s where we are with the budget right now,” Shober said. “Right now, we’re leaving, you know, what’s left of the Legislature to some other challenges they’re facing, but it looks like we’re coming out with really, really good news.”

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

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter