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JACKSON — An annual report from the Wyoming Office of Tourism shows the number of tourists visiting the state declined 8.5% in 2022 compared to 2021.

But those 7.5 million tourists spent more money, adding up to an overall increase in travel spending of 3.8%. Visitors spent $4.5 billion, an all-time high for the state, up from $4.3 billion in 2021.

Teton County, where total travel spending is more than twice that of the next busiest county — Laramie County — saw the same trend. Visitors spent approximately $1.65 billion in Teton County alone, up 5.9% from the previous year, and accounting for 36.8% of total travel spending in Wyoming last year.

Other counties, like Park and Sublette, saw slight downturns in spending, down 11.8% and 6.9%.

Following the statewide trend, fewer tourists traveled to Teton County last year, but those who did come spent more.

Travel-related jobs in the county also grew, from 7,240 in 2021 to 7,890 in 2022. Jobs have been higher in years past, closer to 9,000 in 2017 and 2018, but the state data shows those jobs pay more on average.

That’s a step in the right direction for Teton County, said Crista Valentino, interim executive director of the joint town and county Travel and Tourism Board.

In Teton County, Valentino’s board has been using lodging tax funds to adjust marketing Jackson Hole to a more valuable type of tourist, that is someone who spends more money and stays for a longer time, to “appreciate and dive into the experience of Jackson,” as Valentino put it.

Visitor numbers have declined for the first time after shooting skyward during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

“We are seeing our booking numbers significantly down,” Valentino said of 2023. “We are down compared to even pre-pandemic.”

Valentino called the trend “concerning” especially for small businesses.

“Everyone is planning on having a lower year this year,” she said.

Heading into summer, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick Howe said visitation trends could be harder to predict. Visitors book their stays much closer to when they visit compared to a more typical 60- to 90-day window, and international markets are opening up, putting recent summer occupancy projections down 13.4% heading into summer.

Record visitor numbers generated more sales tax, but it also took a toll on residents trying to accommodate those visitors.

“The conversation we’re having right now is, ‘What kind of balance are we looking for?’” Howe said. Overall there’s a trend to a “more balanced” summer.

The key to striking that balance, Howe and Valentino said, is data.

The Travel and Tourism Board will come out with a new website in June. On that site, Valentino said, within the year her organization aims to create a dashboard that will show those “destination metrics” plus visitor and resident sentiments in real time, short- term rental data and information from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Airport.

That will guide business owners and the tourism board on marketing decisions, essentially, where to put their money, Valentino said.

Valentino thinks that better and more widely publicized data will make hitting an economic “sweet spot” possible.

But she’s aware of the growing pressure on less affluent summer travelers.

“We don’t want to be this luxury exclusive destination only available to a few,” she said. “So that’s something else on our mind.”

This story was published on May 10, 2023.

(1) comment

Paul Berry

I would be curious to read about indigenous and Oregon Trail tourism, Ft. Laramie and the many Oregon Trail sites in the State. Is immigrant history showing more or less popularity? Is it measurable? Is it "cool", is it Politically Correct, what is going on in Pioneer History. In 1852, 40,000 people literally walked across over half of the continent, health and personal fitness people should appreciate that, do they? Also, the Indigenous historical sites, there is an apparently enough growing interest in the Medicine Wheel and Fort Phil Kearny to have on-site presence. What is happening at Castle Gardens, last spring (2022) a heavy vehicle must have entered that site a bit prematurely and the ruts in the two-track leading in made the last couple of miles quite the adventure! Will we be seeing that again, what's up with maintenance and the recent investment in trail and fencing? That site in particular, could use planning for continual summer season Indigenous presence in the not too distant future, talk about a "heart of Wyoming" experience it's within a very few miles of the surveyed geographic center of the State and the site is extraordinary for it's natural and cultural beauty. All the best to the Gillette News Record for keeping tourism reporting on their dashboard.

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