While Wyoming lawmakers are working hard to find ways to increase revenue in the state to diversify the economy, unfortunately many of them seem willfully blind when it comes to a real opportunity sitting right there in front of them: growing our tourism sector. In the last two years, bills to fund tourism promotion and remove the agency budget from the general fund were defeated despite support from the House and the statewide hospitality industry. During the last legislative session and more recently at the Joint Revenue Committee meeting in Lander, some legislators have publicly announced they don’t believe the studies and/or research provided by the Wyoming Office of Tourism that prove definitively that our advertising and marketing campaign is effective in increasing visitation and revenues to the state.
The tourism marketing studies provided to the Wyoming Legislature are not done in-house but by two nationally-recognized, blue-ribbon research companies whose methodologies adhere to the strictest standards in the industry: Dean Runyan Associates and Strategic Marketing and Research Insights. The insinuation that our Board, staff and our industry would allow significant dollars to be spent on unaccredited frivolous research is simply untrue, inaccurate and offensive.
These respected national firms concluded that in 2018 visitation increased to 8.9 million overnights, that visitors generated $196 million in tax revenue including $83 million in local tax revenues, that the visitor economy supports more than 32,000 jobs and that it’s the largest private-sector employer in Wyoming. Additionally, the state’s tourism advertising campaign grew visitation by 24%. That spending on advertising generated $59.3 million in state and local taxes. Without the visitor economy, each household in Wyoming would have to pay an average of $840 in taxes to maintain the same level of public services. This is real money that our state needs.
Tourism provides a higher quality of life for Wyomingites because in our sparsely populated state tourists support our restaurants, lodging facilities, activities, festivals, events, outdoor recreation opportunities and economic growth. Revenue derived from the visitor economy makes it possible to boost spending on public services like police, education, infrastructure and health care.
Governor Mark Gordon recognized the state’s second-largest industry recently by signing a proclamation declaring May 5-11 as National Travel and Tourism Week. As the home of America’s first national park, first national monument, first national forest and the envy of destinations all across the country, we have a lot to celebrate. Let’s hope we continue to work together to grow and stabilize our economy, not find ways to intentionally undermine it.