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Tourism provided nearly $140M to county in FY13, visitors council says
Oct 27, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Tourism in 2012 brought $139.6 million and 1,630 jobs to Fremont County, the Wind River Visitors Council estimates.
The council plans to give $169,000 to support local events this fiscal year with an eye toward drawing more visitors.
"Tourism is the second biggest industry in Wyoming," the council's marketing director Paula McCormick said Tuesday at the Fremont County Commission meeting.
The visitors council receives money from the 4 percent in-county lodging tax. In fiscal year 2012 -- from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013 -- the council took in $629,000.
This fiscal year, it expects to raise more money and has a budget of $675,000.
At the meeting, commissioners also appointed Mary Allen of rural Lander to the visitors council. Recently, they chose Riverton-area resident Jennie Wildcat, for another spot on the board.
McCormick said revenues from lodging taxes usually increase.
"They have gone up every year, except from fiscal year 2007-2008, when they went down 1 percent, and fiscal year 2008-2009, when they went down 6.8 percent," she said. "Other than that ... they've gone up every year since 1990."
The visitors council distributes 25 percent of its revenue to Wyoming communities to fund festivals and events. Each municipality receives an amount proportionate to the lodging taxes it generates.
This fiscal year, the visitors council plans to give $32,000 to Dubois, $44,000 to Lander and $83,000 to Riverton. It also budgeted stipends of $6,000 for Shoshoni and $3,000 for Hudson. McCormick said those towns receive amounts greater than the proportion lodging tax they generate because otherwise they would not have enough to fund an event.
Hudson last year used its stipend to put on a festival for the first time, called Hudson Days, McCormick said. Shoshoni originally received $3,000 also, but it did so well marketing and hosting events the visitors council increased its stipend.
"The communities need to have the events to hold people here so they don't just drive on through," McCormick said.
Most of the visitors council's money, 73 percent, goes to marketing, and 2 percent is set aside for administration.
Of the nearly $140 million estimated to have been spent in Fremont County last fiscal year, the most was spent on gasoline and rental cars, $41.7 million.
Visitors spent $27.7 million on restaurants, $21.5 million on arts, entertainment and recreation, $19.4 million on lodging, $9.6 million on groceries, and $800,000 on air travel.
Some tourists make Fremont County their destination, but more stop through on their way to other places, such as Yellowstone Nation-al Park. The visitors council plans its marketing to work with that dynamic.
"Our goal is to capture (tourists) as they pass through and get them to add more than just a tank of gas or a lunch, but to add to their vacation with a one-, two-, three-night stay," she said.
That income created $43.4 million in wages for the estimated 1,630 people the tourism industry primary and secondary jobs locally. It also generated $4.7 million in local and state taxes.
The visitors council has several new projects. One is running advertisements for Fremont County in promotional materials marketed to international tourists through a nationwide initiative called "Brand USA."
McCormick thinks that project is paying off.
"Anecdotally, the chambers (of commerce) and hotels are seeing more international travel," she said.
McCormick also announced that Fremont County would host the start of the Cowboy Tough Adventure Race in July. The event will be in its second year and is a four-day race combining cycling, hiking, canoeing and white-water rafting.
This year might see the competitors ride horseback, which would be a new component, McCormick said. The race is to start in South Pass City and pass through Sinks Canyon before finishing in Casper.
Last year, 28 teams of two or four people competed in the race.
The council is planning to use new combinations of traditional and digital marketing strategies, including putting up billboards advertising "Wind River Country" and in November launching a new website.
Direct mailings, digital press releases, brochures and magazine stories continue to be marketing strategies used by the visitors council. Last year, the group sent 72,000 of its vacation packages to individuals interested in visiting Fremont County.
Roughly 38 percent of the people who receive such a brochure pack end up visiting the area within a year, McCormick said.
The website saw 90,000 visitors in 2012 and had 14,000 people bring it up on a mobile device.
In the past year, the visitors council also launched its "ambassador's campaign," McCormick said. The project aims to educate Fremont County residents on how to help tourists.
Tourism dollars in Fremont County
Gasoline and rental cars
Arts, entertainment and recreation
(Estimates by the
Wind River Visitors Council)