OPINION: Tourism Can Be a Driving Force in Diversifying Wyoming’s Economy

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Bison Herd at the site of the Mormon Row Barns in the Grand Teton National Park
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The following opinion was written and submitted by Tim O’Leary, CFO-Blair Hotels, President-Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association.

Headlines across the state continue to illustrate our need to diversify Wyoming’s revenue streams in an attempt to smooth out some of the boom and bust related to our over dependence of the energy sector.

While outside of the box thinking is certainly important to the overall long-range discussion, investing in the growth of Wyoming’s tourism industry is an obvious and proven way to expand our state’s second largest industry and diversify our state’s revenue stream.

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Tourism is an incredibly competitive business and Wyoming directly competes with our surrounding Rocky Mountain States for visitors. Currently Wyoming’s investment to market our state as a vacation destination ranks 29th in the nation and is significantly less than Colorado, Montana, Utah and even South Dakota’s marketing budget.

In 2018 Wyoming’s visitor economy generated north of $195 million in state and local taxes. Tourism generates critical revenue for our cities, towns and counties.

Tourism and Hospitality is also the largest private sector job creator with more than 32,000 full and part time employees across the state. While we certainly draw a good number of visitors each year, it makes sense to increase our investment to grow the substantial revenues we generate annually.

The money that the state invests in marketing is not the only driver bringing guests to our great state. While the state invests $13 million annually to attract folks from across the country and around the world, the local option lodging taxes generated in every county generate about $17 million annually.

These lodging taxes play a critical role in moving tourists around the state and encouraging them to stay overnight in communities across Wyoming. They showcase the unique assets, features and attractions that each of our 23 counties has to offer. Finally, private business spends approximately $20 million annually to drive traffic into their hotels, steakhouses, museums, rodeos, etc.

It is this three-legged stool of investment into marketing that drives our visitor economy. Investing in tourism marketing for Wyoming is an already existing, proven way for elected officials to grow our state’s second largest industry and to increase the needed revenues that the visitor economy generates for our great state.

Tim O’Leary
CFO-Blair Hotels
President-WLRA