During the course of my business career, our companies have published and distributed over four million magazines promoting tourism in the Cowboy State.
My first magazine, started in 1970 was called Big Mountain Country and sang the praises of my 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 31,000-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 has been 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 2015-19.
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 growing at a steady pace.
Tourists spend money in all parts of Wyoming. From Worland to Newcastle and from Kemmerer to Pine Bluffs, visitors are making big impacts on the local economies. There truly is no place that does not benefit from the visitor.
Northwest Wyoming tourist numbers are increasing. Even places like Fossil Butte near Kemmerer are up 10 percent, which shows the growth of cultural tourism. This is a huge potential growth area, being driven by the Wyoming Department of Humanities.
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.
During that 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 was to do just the opposite. If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more? “Let’s make even more money,” was my response to that idea.
Wyoming’s tourism industry is supported on a three-legged stool of state spending, local lodging board spending, and industry spending. Our state is the envy of the country because our program 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.
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.
Thankfully, the State Senate voted 16-13-1; to pass the new statewide lodging tax on Friday, Feb. 28, to ensure the program will continue for a long time. This is such good news!
Tourism is great for Wyoming. Spending money to promote the Cowboy State is good for everyone. That’s WY!
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.