CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A record 10.1 million people visited Wyoming last year, accounting for an estimated $3.3 billion of the state's economy, and the state tourism director is hopeful that lower gasoline prices will result in more tourists spending more money in the state this year.
"If all things remain the same and the price of fuel stays relatively low, consumers should have more money to spend," Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, said. "We already know they're willing to travel, that they're interested to travel to our destination, and so when you have that much more discretionary income, we anticipate not only seeing more travelers but seeing them spend more while they're here."
The number of people visiting Wyoming in 2014 was up 11 percent from 9.07 million in 2014. It was the highest percentage growth in one year since tracking began in 1998.
Those tourists generated about $159 million in local and state tax revenues, an increase of 10.8 percent from $144 million in 2013.
Yellowstone National Park is known worldwide, but tourists around the world also have a fascination with the American cowboy, Shober said.
"Very prevalent in European countries but also even if you go to China the things that they'll know and some of the things that they will say are cowboys and Yellowstone," she said. "Those are both right in our wheel house."
But state tourism marketing efforts seek to interest tourists in more than just Yellowstone.
Since about 75 percent of the people visiting Wyoming travel via automobile, the state uses social media and traditional advertising to entice tourists to visit other areas of the state, Shober said.
"It intrigues them to do many other things if their ultimate destination is one of our national parks," she said. "That's where the economic benefit of a destination drive really benefits other places. Because as people are going to and from Yellowstone, they're stopping at places like Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper or Gillette, Sheridan, Buffalo.
"And then married with the tourism marketing efforts of those communities, many times people are spending a day or maybe adding on an extra half day in places throughout Wyoming that they wouldn't normally be if it weren't for the marketing efforts of the tourism industry."
Shober said Wyoming is constantly monitoring markets and potential markets to reach people who might consider visiting the state.
This year, the state will be increasing its pitch in the Seattle area.
"We have seen for years strong indications from Seattle," she said.
The marketing is important because the competition among states for tourists is intense, Shober said.
"The challenge that we have is making sure that Wyoming is the destination of choice," she said.
As the number two industry in Wyoming, tourism is vital to the state's economy. The hospitality and tourism industry is responsible for over 31,000 full- and part-time jobs in Wyoming.