(The Center Square) - Wyoming will put $2.5 million of a federal grant toward marketing the Cowboy State's tourism opportunities this year.
As a separate part of the CARES Act, the grant is from the U.S. Department of Commerce and earmarked for tourism marketing to help states' tourism economies recover. Last year, the bottom dropped out of the national tourism economy as stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 diminished travel.
Wyoming's tourism economy contracted by about 25% last year, less than the national average of about 45%, thanks to its voluminous outdoor attractions and open space.
"We didn't have to reinvent ourselves, and that's a fortunate thing for the state of Wyoming in terms of the visitor economy," Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT), told The Center Square. "What we're doing is actually broadening our footprint. We're casting a wider net with our messaging."
Shober said the money will go toward a fully integrated, layered marketing approach that will use research to target demographics most likely to act upon a marketing message. Individuals who have already been identified as interested in the outdoors and cowboy culture will see ads promoting Wyoming as a destination show up when using social platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Print ads in magazines like Outside Magazine and TV spots are another facet to the approach, Shober said.
One of the most popular ways to visit the Cowboy State is via road trips, and last year was no exception, yet many of those visitors spent fewer dollars within the borders. WOT wants that to be different this year.
Shober said reasons for the reduced spending connect back to COVID-19. Many went camping, which is fairly self-contained and keeps visitors out of areas where they might spend money at a restaurant or on activities, she said.
"There were a lot of attractions and activities that did not operate or could not operate at full capacity last year," Shober said. "So therefore, large events like a lot of our major rodeos and festivals across Wyoming didn't operate last year. If you were running a sightseeing business, you were limited in the number of guests that you could take with you."
There was also a large increase in day-trippers, who spend less as they don't spend time in accommodations, Shober said.
Much of this will be self-correcting, Shober said. With restrictions being lifted or lightened and all of Wyoming's rodeos and festivals on the calendar in 2021, in conjunction with the targeting marketing, Shober expects spending to increase.
Indicators that signal intent to travel are pointing toward a successful year of tourism, she said. Organic search on Wyoming Travel's website, which Shober points out is a very strong indicator, is up anywhere from 27% to 70% ahead of last year.