CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — This year looks to be a "banner year" for Wyoming's tourism industry, providing good fiscal news to a state looking at severe drops in revenue because of the downturn in minerals extraction, a state tourism official said.
Diane Shober, executive director of the state Office of Tourism, said Thursday that the final numbers on Wyoming's 2015 tourism are still being compiled, but an improved national economy, increased travelers, lower gasoline prices and well-executed marketing efforts give her reason for optimism.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and other major attractions in the state saw big increases in visitation over the summer months, Shober said.
While a few areas of the state had lower hotel occupancy, Teton and Park counties, where 50 percent of all the state's hotels are located, had record years, she said. Preliminary sales tax figures for businesses linked to the leisure and hospitality industry are all up from a year ago, Shober said.
"I can tell you this, with a high degree of confidence, that 2015 will be a banner year because the stars were aligned very well," she said.
A record 10.1 million people visited the state in 2014, spending about $3.4 billion and generating $168 million in state and local sales taxes. The tourism industry is the second-largest contributor of tax revenue to the state.
"The tourism economy is a steady growth economy for the state of Wyoming," Shober said. "It is growing, and it's growing at a nice steady pace. And it's an export economy — so these are new dollars being pumped into Wyoming's economy by nonresident travelers."
The growth in tourism comes at a time when the state is looking at a $210 million budget shortfall in the coming two years because of a struggling mining industry, which is a mainstay of the state's economy.
It's important for the state to continue its tourism marketing efforts, Shober said. "While there were a lot more people out there traveling, there are a lot of other destinations that are competing for those visitors and inviting visitors to come to their destination," she said.
The Wyoming Office of Tourism has an annual budget of about $14 million, much of which is spent on advertising to entice people to visit the state.
The winter tourist season is off to a good start thanks to good snowfall at Wyoming ski resorts, Shober said. "Snow on the ground is money in our pockets," she said.