BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE
Wyoming ranks 28th in tourism advertising in a 2017-18 U.S. Travel Association report, with spending at $12.189 million.
According to the report, Montana spent $17.5 million, Colorado spent $22 million, Idaho spent $12.2 million and South Dakota spent $15.7 million.
At the 2019 Wyoming Hospitality and Tourism Fall Advocacy Summit held Nov. 13 in Cody a portion of the discussion was about how Wyoming is getting outspent by neighboring states and how those additional dollars are paying off, as the revenue generated by the travelers is greater than Wyoming.
The travel impacts on Wyoming’s economy are significant. In 2018 Wyoming had 8.9 million visitors, an increase of 2.3 percent from 2017. Direct spending was $3.8 billion, which was a 6.4 percent increase. State and local tax revenues were $195 million, a 6 percent increase. Travel related jobs were 32,200 in number.
For Big Horn County the impact breaks down to $33.3 million in travel spending and $5.5 million in earnings with 370 jobs. Local tax generated was $40,000. Statewide tax generated was $1.2 million.
According to the Economic Analysis Division’s Dec. 2019 Wyoming Insight report, leisure and hospitality represents 14 percent of tax collection. Under the non-farm wage and salary, after state and local government, the leisure and hospitality sector represents 13 percent of Wyoming’s workforce. This shows that this industry is the largest private sector employer in the state.
A statewide lodging tax could provide additional monies for tourism advertising.
Wyoming Senator RJ Kost spoke at the summit and later in a phone interview about tourism and its impact on the Wyoming economy, as well has his feelings about the lodging tax.
He said that for many years Wyoming has relied on the natural resources sector but that luxury no longer exists. Even if gas prices are coming up or “things are getting better” there is still the cyclical dimension where the prices go up and down.
“Part of the answer to that is tourism,” said Kost. “It seems like no matter if times are good or times are bad, people are still going to travel for vacation. They just might not travel quite as far or as luxuriously.”
Kost also noted that while most people come to Wyoming to see Yellowstone, there is so much more out there. Kost continued, “How can we maximize the impact? You look at Utah and they have Arches, trails for people to hike and bike. We have a lot of territory that people can do that as well. We have great fishing throughout the state and all kinds of historical things that people should know about as much as Yellowstone Park.”
Kost and others at the summit discussed how both Idaho and Montana use Yellowstone Park in their marketing even though only a fraction of the park is in their states.
Last year a statewide lodging tax was proposed but did not pass. Kost said he would support one if there were ways to make sure locals were not taxed when they travel the state. The example he gave was families and students traveling for sports.
Gov. Mark Gordon also spoke at the summit. He, too, acknowledged the decline in energy and said that the state needs to find other ways to grow the economy. One of those is tourism.
“We are going to work very hard with you to make sure people understand and appreciate exactly how important they (the tourism/travel industry) are,” Gordon said.
He continued by saying “It’s not only that we can market ourselves better, which we need to do. I wish we could do more and we are going to do more. As we look at the next couple of years people are going to appreciate the value tourism has. Not only in jobs but careers and in general economy aspects. How do we make sure people go back remembering this wonderful place that Wyoming is.”
Gordon said he would support a statewide lodging tax. “Eighty percent of the tax burden is paid by the minerals’ industry. That is an industry very much under attack. So this is a long-winded way of saying you have my support on a lodging tax. I have also committed we are not going to have that encumbered by all sorts of Christmas tree ornamentation. It is going to be a straight forward tax that is going to benefit the tourism industry.”
He added that Wyoming needs to be on the global stage so the next time someone asks where you are from and you answer I’m from Wyoming, they don’t ask if it’s part of Montana or Colorado.
Gordon said one of his daughters goes to school in New York and during geography class was she asked what three states are Yellowstone in. She replied Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The teacher told her the correct answer is Idaho, Montana and Utah.
“Together I believe that this is our opportunity,” said Gordon. “This is the greatest state in the nation.”