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Tourism

Smart Yellowstone Reporter – Unlike Idiot Tourists – Leaves Bison Alone

in News/Tourism/wildlife
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We’ve seen the videos many, many times. Tourists come to Yellowstone and attempt to pet bison.

The result? Oftentimes, not good.

Deion Broxton, from KTVM TV in Bozeman, Montana, did the right thing. He saw a herd of bison coming his way and bailed out.

“Oh my God,” he muttered while carefully observing the approaching herd.

“I ain’t messing with you,” he said moments later, while walking off-camera and to his car.

“Oh, no,” he continued while packing his car with his gear. “Oh no, I ain’t messing with you.”

His actions got him praise from the official Yellowstone Twitter account.

“A perfect example of what to do when approached by wildlife! Rolling on the floor laughing Thanks Deion for putting the #YellowstonePledge into action!” they tweeted.

As for that herd of bison, those were some serious animals. Once he got to a safe location, he shot a quick video of them.

Tourism officials see need for closure order

in Coronavirus/News/Tourism
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state order closing down businesses where people are likely to gather is regrettable, but understandable under the circumstances, the leaders of two Wyoming hospitality industry groups said Friday.

Mike Moser, executive director for the Wyoming State Liquor Association, and Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, both said it is important to take action now to cut short the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

“This is obviously an unprecedented time in Wyoming and our nation’s history,” Brown said. “It is going to be very difficult for our businesses to endure and adapt. If there is a silver lining, I hope these extreme measures result in reducing the longevity of this virus so we can get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.”

“We’ve got hundreds of businesses closed and thousands of employees unemployed or underemployed,” Moser said. “But we understand the need for the governor’s actions.”

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer, on Thursday issued an order closing all of the state’s bars, theaters, child care centers, gyms and other businesses likely to draw more than 10 people at once. The measure, endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon, is seen as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurants were allowed to remain open only for curbside takeout and drive-through service. Tourism is Wyoming’s second-largest industry and the closures are expected to have an impact on the state’s economy. Brown said he hopes the closure leads to an end to the spread of the illness by Wyoming’s summer tourism season.

“I guess if there’s another silver lining, at least it’s March and not July,” he said. “I hope measures like this will result in this situation concluding sooner rather than later.”

Bill Sniffin: Tourism Sells State, Not Just To Visitors, But To Future Residents, Too

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Tourism
Tourism Conference
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily Publisher

During the course of my Wyoming business career, our companies have published and distributed over four million magazines promoting tourism in the Cowboy State.

My first magazine was started in 1970 called Big Mountain Country that sang the praises for Fremont County, home of the biggest mountains in the state.

Flash ahead 50 years, and I am attending the annual Wyoming Governor’s Tourism Conference in Cheyenne. Hundreds of members of the 30,000-plus people who work in the hospitality industry were there.

Over the years the tourism industry has faced many threats, the Yellowstone fires of 1988, come to mind. This year the Coronavirus will cut into Asian tourism. Up to now the threats to the state’s second largest industry have come from outside sources.

In a crazy twist, the biggest danger to the industry this year is coming from within – from some members of the Legislature. Because of tight money concerns, some outspoken elected folks think we are spending too much money promoting the state.

Actually we are lagging behind our neighbors. And we have a lot to lose by such crazy thinking.

A small amount of money spent with the state tourism department generates much more money – it is as simple as that. The more people we get here the more money they spend. That outside money circulates around our communities. It is a win-win.

One legislator even suggested getting rid of the state’s WOT (Wyoming Office of Tourism) and actually heard a few shouts of encouragement in the State Senate. You can’t make this stuff up.

A few decades ago Colorado got rid of its tourism department, which was a disaster. It took years for them to get it restored and then even more years for their hospitality industry to recover. They never tried it again.

In the past six months, the energy economy in Wyoming has taken some serious hits leaving folks from Gillette to Rock Springs and Cheyenne to Lovell nervous and pessimistic.

Gov. Mark Gordon has responded by saying he anticipates implementing budget restraints.

But all is not so dim when it comes to the state economy.

In fact the one aspect of Wyoming’s economy that is bright is so bright, it is positively blinding.

Tourism, the state’s number-two industry, has never seen years like 2015-2019.

More than 10 million people annually visited the Cowboy State. Yellowstone National Park now hits 4 million, which is a staggering number.

All these visitors spent a staggering $3 billion with motels, gas stations, gift shops and restaurants. In 2005, the total was $2 billion. This industry is really growing at a steady pace.

Tourists spend money in all parts of Wyoming. There truly is no place that does not benefit from the visitor.

Grand Teton Park and Jackson Hole are increasing. Even places like Fossil Butte near Kemmerer are up 10 percent, which shows the growth of cultural tourism.

All these tourists paid over $160 million in local and state taxes during 2019, which is an amazing number. Sales taxes, alone, are up over 10 percent.

The state’s investment in new welcome centers is paying off with increases in visitation.

During the recent tourism conference, members of the industry were warned the 2020 Legislature might try to cut the marketing budget of the tourism department because of the afore-mentioned dip in state revenues,

My advice to them would be to do just the opposite. If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?

Wyoming’s tourism industry is supported on a three-legged stool of state spending, local county lodging board spending and industry spending. Our state is the envy of the country and it is obviously why – it is working!

It is mind-boggling that every so often we hear some shrill opponents who decry spending state money on tourism promotion. They are simply wrong. This is a program that works very well. We all need to get behind it and try to grow it even more.

Tourism as the state’s number-two industry boasts 31,000 jobs. As an industry, it creates new jobs in the rapidly disappearing middle class sector.

Tourism is great for Wyoming. Spending money to promote it is good for everyone. That’s WY!

Cheyenne’s Darren Rudloff Wins ‘Big Wyo’ Tourism Award

in News/Tourism
Darren Rudloff
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The former head of Cheyenne’s tourism agency was named the winner of the top award from the state’s tourism industry Tuesday.

Darren Rudloff, former chief executive officer for Visit Cheyenne, was named winner of the “Big Wyo” Award, given to a member of the private sector who has done an outstanding job of promoting and improving the state’s tourism industry.

The award, given to Rudloff on Tuesday during the Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference in Cheyenne, has been handed out annually since 1977, when it went to Harry Smith, at the time the owner of Cheyenne’s Hitching Post Inn. Other winners include Paul Smith, also a former owner of the Hitching Post Inn and Pat Sweeney, former owner of the Parkway Plaza in Casper.

Rudloff called the past winners “giants in our industry.”

“To be considered among them is truly amazing,” he said. “I don’t know if I really deserve this honor, but I’ll appreciate it and revere it for the rest of my life.”

The annual Hospitality and Tourism Conference, hosted by the Wyoming Office of Tourism and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, ended Tuesday.

Bill Would Let Frontier Days Bypass Cheyenne For Beer Sale Permits

in News/Tourism
Cheyenne Frontier Days
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A legislative solution to a dispute between the city of Cheyenne and Cheyenne Frontier Days has been proposed by a state senator.

The city and organizers of the 10-day rodeo are debating the use of Cheyenne Police officers as security during the rodeo in July.

City officials have said that unless Frontier Days agrees to cover the cost of the security, estimated at $100,000 to $200,000 per year, the permit that allows the sale of beer at the rodeo grounds will be withheld.

As a result, Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, has proposed a bill that would let Frontier Days buy a special event malt beverage permit directly from the state for $100.

“We have no qualms with public protection, we think it’s critical to the public safety of Cheyenne Frontier Days as well as they do,” he said. “But holding up their malt beverage permit because of that is, in my opinion, extortion.”

But Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said many believe security should be paid for by Frontier Days, not with taxpayer dollars.

“And just from what we’ve seen on social media, the public really believes that this shouldn’t come out of taxpayer funds, that Cheyenne Frontier Days has the ability to pass along that cost to their attendees,” she said. “It’s a private event, it should be picked up privately.”

Orr said both sides in the dispute will meet to try reach a compromise.

Bob Geha: Statewide Lodging Tax Wins House Approval

in News/politics/Tourism
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a statewide 5 percent lodging tax on the cost of hotel and motel rooms won final approval Monday from the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 134 won approval in its final reading from the House on a vote of 39-19, sending it to the Senate for its review.

The bill would impose a 5 percent tax statewide, with 3 percent — about $13 million a year — going to the state Tourism Department for use in promoting Wyoming tourism.

Income from the remaining 2 percent would go to the state’s counties and another 2 percent tax could be imposed at the county level with voter approval.

Chris Brown of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association said the bill’s approval is a victory for tourism in Wyoming.

“By putting the state’s second largest (income) generator and the promoting arm of Wyoming on a more competitive footing, this is a win for outdoor recreation, it’s a win for tourism, it’s a win for the state,” he said.

Opponents argued voters might be hesitant to approve the extra 2 percent tax with the statewide tax in place.

“My Sublette County people were afraid of that,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. “They’re afraid that this bill could cause the voter to have a backlash and they may not be able to get their remaining 2 percent that’s (approved by) a vote of the people.”

A similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

Lodging Tax: $21.5 Million Raised Statewide in 2019

in News/Taxes/Tourism
Lodging tax
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Because of the importance of tourism to local economies throughout the state, many counties are making the most of an optional tax that allows them to lure visitors, bringing much-needed tourism dollars to sluggish economies.

According to the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition, the local option lodging tax works well as a source of revenue for local tourism promotion. 

A report released by the state shows that more than $21.5 million dollars was raised by lodging taxes statewide in 2019. 

Income from the lodging tax, which is assessed in addition to sales taxes, is earmarked for local travel promotion. The tax, which ranges from 2 percent to 4 percent, must be approved by local voters every four years. 

None of the lodging tax revenues can be used for projects outside of tourism advertising and promotion — no capital construction, no general funding for cities, towns and counties. 

But for many local governments, that tax income is a jump-start for the economy.

Claudia Wade, executive director for the Park County Travel Council, said that because of the lodging tax, the council can spend more dollars advertising attractions and recreation, which influences travelers’ decisions to stay longer in the area.

Because of its location, Park County is a natural draw for tourists heading to Yellowstone National Park. 

Wade said that because of the advertising financed with lodging tax revenue, more people are drawn to the region as tourists, which then allows more locals to stay employed.

“Because the lodging tax is collected on top of the sales tax, when visitors come to the area, they bring in more revenue that can be used for general fund purposes for local governments,” Wade said.

“Those expenditures have a big impact on our economics. The businesses that they’re frequenting also are hiring employees — which means those front line workers and workers behind the scenes all benefit from the tourism industry and visitors coming to the area.”

What the lodging tax does in Park County is indicative of its impact across the rest of the state. Laramie County received more than $2 million in lodging tax revenue last year, while Casper and the local governments in Natrona County received $1.8 million.

Park County, with Yellowstone as a major tourism draw, took in more than $3 million, and Teton County received more than $7.7 million in lodging tax dollars.

Wyoming law specifies that the tax must be used for travel and tourism promotion by the county or city approving the tax, and is limited to promotional materials, television and radio advertising, printed advertising, promotion of tours and other specific tourism related objectives. 

Wade pointed out that Park County does what most other counties do with the funds.

“We pay for connect TV ads, some print, there is some digital, and a lot of social media,” she explained, “so it’s a big mix – much bigger than when it was when we initially started in 1986.” 

Brook Kaufman is CEO of Visit Casper. She said the lodging tax makes a huge difference in the local economy in Natrona County.

“I think there is a perception that Natrona County doesn’t have a robust tourism economy, but we do,” she said. “It employs just over 2,600 people, generates almost $300 million in direct spend and $15 million in sales tax. For us, tourism is really critical to employment.”

Kaufman said Visit Casper invests the lodging tax dollars in marketing programs that drive return visits, which creates jobs and sales tax collections for both cities and counties. 

A statewide lodging tax bill is being proposed again this year at the Wyoming legislature, which Wade said would assist not only the individual counties, but the entire state.

“The lodging tax is important as a whole to the state — that additional money could be very beneficial to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which has a broader reach than our local organizations,” Wade explained.

The Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition reports that the lodging tax makes up about 18 percent of the tax dollars from travelers. While a study by the American Economics group in 2008 concluded high room taxes can influence travelers’ decisions to stay in a certain city for any length of time, Wade said that’s not much of a concern in Wyoming.

“Our lodging tax rate here in Wyoming is fairly insignificant compared to other regions,” she said, noting that states such as Michigan (at 12 percent) and Connecticut (at 15 percent) have significantly higher lodging taxes than in the Cowboy State. 

Only five states have lodging tax rates lower than Wyoming, according to a report issued by the National Council of State Legislatures.

Sleeping Giant Ski Area to Close After Season Ends

in News/Recreation/Tourism
Sleeping Giant
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The mountains of western Wyoming and eastern Idaho, along with southern Montana and central Colorado, are meccas for people of all ages who love the thrill of sliding down the hillsides at high speeds.

Skiing can be expensive, however, and one non-profit organization is struggling with providing affordable access for families while keeping the books in the black.

Otto Goldbach is a member of the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, the board responsible for the Sleeping Giant ski area near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. 

The board announced recently that Sleeping Giant would close for good after this spring’s ski season, but Goldbach and other board members are hoping that they can find a way to extend the hill’s life by a few years through more volunteer hours and fundraising.

Goldbach pointed out that the ski hill is more than just a winter recreation area.

“It’s a community center that happens to have some ski lifts on it,” he said.

The hill, which was first opened in 1930 as the Red Star Ski Area, had closed in 2004, but a community effort brought it to life again in 2009. 

“Some really generous donors came in and put in the new infrastructure, remodeled the lodge, put in a new lift,” Goldbach said.

Sleeping Giant is a relatively small ski hill – with just 900 vertical feet and 184 skiable acres, it lacks the “excitement” that draws more experienced skiers to Montana’s nearby Red Lodge, just an hour north of Cody, or just a bit farther away to Jackson or Big Sky, also in Montana. 

But the family-friendly lift ticket prices ($16 for children 6 to 12 and $42 for adults) and programs such as free skiing for fifth graders make it a draw for local residents.

While the foundation has a broad base of support in nearby Cody, it hasn’t been able to raise enough funds to balance the budget and the facility is running at a $200,000-per-year deficit. 

Goldbach said the board has tried to think out of the box for ways to keep Sleeping Giant open, including constructing a zip line that has low overhead with a higher rate of return.

However, that tactic hasn’t been enough.

“They tried to get the revenue off of the zip line to pay for the ski area,” Goldbach said, “but it hasn’t been performing like it was hoped.”

Sleeping Giant isn’t the only ski area that’s facing hard times. The snow sports industry nationwide is facing downturns tied to changes in the weather patterns. 

According to a report released in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, there’s been a 41 percent drop in snowfall amounts across the American West since the early 1980s. 

But Goldbach said the hurdles they face at Sleeping Giant are more than just fewer snow days.

“It’s a tough industry,” he lamented. “You’ve got bad years, you’ve got competition from other ski areas and other sports that are going on.”

Governor Gordon Will Support New Lodging Tax to Promote Tourism

in News/politics/Tourism
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal
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Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“I can support it,” Governor Mark Gordon said when asked if he can get behind the concept of a statewide lodging tax to fund the future of tourism.

Gordon was addressing the members of the Wyoming Press Association during that group’s annual meeting in Casper.

“This is an important step for the tourism industry, and I support that industry,” he said.

Tourism is the state’s second largest industry behind energy production and has more employees, 33,000, than any other industry.

Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

The new lodging tax proposal contains the following items:

• New title- Wyoming Tourism Account Funding.
• Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored bill
• Imposes a 5% statewide lodging tax (3% dedicated to tourism 2% guaranteed and replaces existing 2% local option lodging tax)
• Up to additional 2% local option lodging tax can be renewed every 4 years but would be vote of governing local government (city council or county commissioners depending if city or county wide tax) instead of vote of the electorate.
• State parks overnight camping would be subject to the tax (except annual resident camping passes, state fair campgrounds and county fair campgrounds- they would all be exempt)
• 80% of the 3% that is dedicated to tourism would be deposited into the newly created tourism account and shall be spent on Wyoming Office of Tourism/Wyoming Tourism Board (subject to legislative approval before spending every year)
• Remaining 20% would be deposited into newly created tourism reserve account. (Subject to legislative approval before spending every year) No more “tipping point”
• Local option lodging tax permissible expenditures amended to include “digital content, social media, staging of events, educational materials and other tourism related objectives including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience”
• The Bill, if passed, effective January 1, 2021
• Thresholds for when lodging tax shifts from 90/10 to 60/30/10 updated to 2020 dollar values (nothing changes, the thresholds have always been tied to the cost of living index and so thresholds are simply updated to what they are in 2020-they remain tied to index moving forward)
• All existing local option lodging taxes stay in place until their next scheduled election.

Five Fun Ways to Enjoy Wyoming’s Winter

in News/Recreation/Tourism
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Weathering Wyoming winters can wear down even the most resilient Wyomingites, but hidden within the snow and wind is a veritable “wonderland” of recreation, a Wyoming Office of Tourism spokesperson said.

“I think winter in Wyoming is great, because it’s so accessible,” said Piper Singer, an Office of Tourism public relations and media manager. “There’s not just one spot for winter recreation and getting to those activities is usually a short drive from wherever you’re staying.”

Listed below, the Office of Tourism suggested some winter activities to help residents and visitors break a bad case of cabin fever.

Winter rodeo

February is a lame duck for economic development in northeastern Wyoming.

But in 2019, Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker decided to shake up the city in the most Wyoming way ever — a ski rodeo.

“I worked with the WYO Rodeo Board and the city engineer to put together something crazy for the slowest spending day of the year,” Parker said. “The result was Sheridan Winter Rodeo.”

The main attraction — skiijoring — combines horseback riding and skiing in a mad dash for the finish line.

“Skiijoring is a sport where a horse and rider tow a skier or snowboarder along a snow-covered course with jumps and obstacles, competing for fastest time,” Parker explained. 

The event was a success last year, drawing thousands, and this year, he said the organizers are stepping it up a notch.

“We’re adding Nordic skiing and fat biking the weekend before the rodeo,” Parker said. “And we’re extending the rodeo a full day to give all the (skiijoring) teams an opportunity to compete.”

Scheduled for Feb. 15-23, the event is quickly growing in popularity, but he said visitor lodging is still readily available.

“Not a lot else is going on, so people will probably be able to easily find a room,” Parker said. “But, the rodeo is becoming such a big hit that people will want to think about booking ahead to get the best accommodations.” 

Hot springs

When the weather outside is frightful, visit the hot springs in Thermopolis, Singer said.

“It’s in a central location with great options for lodging and dining,” she said. “With the Hot Springs State Park, not only can you soak in the natural hot springs, but you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from great opportunities for watching wildlife.”

Home to bison among other native wildlife species, the park boasts a free bath house, allowing visitors to bask in nature’s hot tub with water temperatures averaging about 104 degrees.

“It’s a charming town, and it definitely has that Western feel so many people come to experience,” Singer said. “Plus, for many, it’s on the way to Yellowstone National Park. It really is one of Wyoming’s hidden gems.”

While the park’s public restrooms, drinking systems and outdoor pool are closed during the winter, the bath house is open year round.

National parks

The Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks are as synonymous to Wyoming as the Statue of Liberty is to New York, but some people miss out on the opportunities these destinations offer during the winter, Singer said.

“Both parks are open throughout the year, but for Yellowstone, you’ll need snow coach transportation to get there,” she explained. “There are several companies located at either entrance people can book rides with.” 

Exploring the parks in the off-season grants visitors an opportunity to see nature’s splendor through a different lens, Singer added.

“In many cases, it’s even easier to see the wildlife in the winter,” Singer said. “There’s several guides and outfitters that offer winter tours.” 

Lodging is available in Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is accessible via a day pass only.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and a whole different world up there in the winter,” Singer said. 

Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing 

For just the price of a cold, wet backside, sliding down a snowy hill is perhaps the most affordable and memorable winter activity in the history of mankind, closely followed by snowball fights and snow sculptures.

But at some point, the neighborhood sledding hill just isn’t enough, and that’s where Wyoming shines brightest, Singer said.

“Jackson is internationally known as a world-renowned ski destination, but we have high-quality skiing in nearly every corner of the state,” she said.

In the southeast, Snowy Range Ski Area offers numerous downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails about 30 minutes  from Laramie. Eleven miles from Casper in central Wyoming, Hogadon Basin Ski Area features 28 machine-groomed trails, two lifts and minimal lift lines. On the Western side of the state, Pinedale is home to one of Wyoming’s oldest ski destinations: White Pine Ski Area. And, to the North near Cody, Sleeping Giant Ski Area and Antelope Butte Ski Area provide Rocky Mountain skiing opportunities without the hassle and long wait-times common to ski resorts south of the Wyoming border. 

With snow flying during as many as nine months a year, Singer said the state boasts numerous state parks and public lands for residents and visitors to discover their own trails via cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Snowmobiling

For those with a need for speed, snowmobiling combines the petrol-fueled antics of off-road motor sports with the ability to visit awe-inspiring landscapes previously inaccessible without spending days or weeks slogging through the snow.

Mike Gray, the Laramie Area Visitor Center operations manager, said interest in Wyoming’s snowmobile trails has significantly grown during the last decade.

“Albany County sells the most snowmobile permits of any county throughout the state,” Gray said, explaining permit sales is the primary method for tracking the sport’s popularity. “We’ve definitely seen an upward trend in recent years, too. I think it’s because the Snowy Range is the perfect backdrop for spending a day on the sled.”

Albany County is home to 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and about 120 of un-groomed trails, he added.

Farther north and east, Singer said snowmobilers can follow trails for hundreds of miles along the Continental Divide. 

“The Black Hills area near Sundance is another nice area to ride,” she added. “They have a 295-mile trail that loops through South Dakota, which is a great way to see some of the state’s greatest offerings like Devil’s Tower.”

Whether on horseback, snowmobile, skis or snowshoes, Wyoming is a frozen theme park for outdoor enthusiasts.

“All of these activities come together to create a unique winter wonderland that is sure to have people coming back year after year,” Singer said.

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