A University of Wyoming economics professor says if last summer's wildfires are going to have a significant effect on tourism in the area, it might not be evident for three to five years.
Clynn Phillips conducted a survey of 150 households in the Midwest and found 69 percent of the respondents said if they had planned to visit Yellowstone this year, last year's fires would not cause them to change their plans.Phillips said 70 percent of those questioned had visited the park in the past and, although they were more likely to believe the fires had damaged the park, more than two-thirds of them said the damage would not change their hypothetical plans to visit the park again.
The respondents who said they have never visited the park were less likely to believe the fires caused significant damage to the park, but about 50 percent of them said the fires would cause them to change their hypothetical travel plans.
"Assuming the results of this limited survey are representative of potential vacationer reactions to the Yellowstone fires, then the impact on the region's tourist industry is likely to be manifest in reduced recruiting successes with new visitors," Phillips said. "As such, the most serious impacts will be long-term rather than short-term and more subtle than obvious."
He said previous studies have shown repeat visitors to the park outnumber first-time visitors by a ratio of about 2-to-1, so the relative importance of repeat visitors should prevent a collapse in tourism during the next two years.
Phillips stressed the survey is not conclusive.
"Survey results lack solid indication that all is well or that the hub of tourism for Wyoming, Montana and Idaho has lost a critical bearing," he said.
There is some evidence that curiosity about the effects of the fires will not play a big role in attracting visitors, Phillips said, which could mean the long-term effects on tourism will become apparent sooner.