The Saratoga Sun -

Wyoming tourism faces COVID-19

Annual tourism conference discusses approach to pandemic


November 18, 2020

The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) had to have their conference in a different manner than years past. On October 21 and 22, WOT held their fall summit virtually.

Executive Director of WOT, Diane Shober and Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association (WLRA) and Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition (WTIC) Executive Director Chris Brown were hosts.

The conference started out discussing the state of the travel industry. Roger Dow, President and CEO of US Travel, said travel industry groups have called on the present administration to pursue an approach to coronavirus (COVID-19) testing that would prevent the need for quarantines and travel bans in order to have travelers resume going place-to-place safely.

He said Airlines for America, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the U.S. Travel Association and other groups were sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Transportation Secretary Elaine Cho and Homeland Security to hopefully get travel open again.

The groups said the current situation, with some states having some type of quarantine in place, made it hard and confusing for travelers to feel comfortable move around the country.

The groups feel testing and screening passengers at or ahead of departure could reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading with traveling. The groups feel state governors should work together to create and implement a comprehensive, cost-effective pre-departure testing procedure and contact tracing sequence.

Dow said the airline industry was recovering, but that travel was still down about 50 percent from this time last year. 

The summit was focused on COVID-19 and the repercussions happening to Wyoming. There was a seminar on best practices that restaurants, lodging properties, attractions and destination marketing organizations were using to survive and keep moving forward.

There were speakers that went over procedures for keeping customers and employees safe. One speaker went over the liability that owners faced while being open.

The two day conference was not like years before, but it did end as the year before when the pandemic was not on anyone’s radar.

Governor Mark Gordon closed the summit with a speech directed at the viewing audience.

“I can’t stress how important this industry is to Wyoming and our future,” Gordon said. “The opportunities that this industry provide and I think the fact that it is crucial element of our economy in this year in particular.”

Gordon said the tourism industry has stepped forward in a way that many other Wyoming industries could not. He said that the tourism industry was in front of the crisis as it unfolded in March.

He cited Jackson and Teton County as examples of taking control on how many visitors could safely come into the area after most of the nation’s ski industry shut down. The efforts paid off and Yellowstone was able to open two weeks earlier than other states that border the national park.

Gordon mentioned Congresswoman Liz Cheney for doing an excellent job in getting the state access to the White House for adequate supplies for testing.

Gordon complimented Brown for having the right approach in handling the virus as it started to take hold of many areas of the nation.

“It is a little disappointing what has started to happen in the past few weeks,” Gordon said. “I think there is fatigue and maybe some other noise in the air, but for the duration of the tourist season, right from June until the end of September, Wyoming was way out in the lead. We had more visitors coming here and more people who said they appreciated the hospitality of Wyoming.”

Gordon said he heard often from visitors on what an excellent experience they had in the state and that they were going to be coming back, year-after-year.

“I also want to say, standing together with you really has made Wyoming’s transition through a very difficult time more predictable,” Gordon said. “I say that because agriculture, tourism, mining and oil industries are really the three legged stool that builds Wyoming. That stool was knocked out from underneath us to a degree when the Russians and the Saudis decided to go to a price war. We have seen the pressure on coal, and those industries really took it hard this year. Agriculture has had an interesting year also and tourism stepped forward to establish itself as truly one of the absolute pillars of that we can say Wyoming has had a successful year. ”

Gordon thanked the attendees at the fall summit for their efforts.

“I think, as we move forward, I look forward to partnering with all of you to get better ideas, best approaches,” Gordon said. “Certainly there were things anticipate this year. One of the things that was most significant and painful for me was when our big marquee rodeos, including Cheyenne Frontier Days and others, came together and said that this is really going to be tough for us. We don’t know if we have the sponsorships, we don’t know what this is going to do, we really think we have to press the pause button this year.”

He said, although these events did cancel, all that were involved felt the county fairs and county rodeos and the state fair had to go forward. 

“I think that kind of unity, that kind of proactiveness, was hard on all of us, but what it meant was that we were one of three state fairs and I think we were the only state that had every county rodeo and county fair.”

Gordon said that was the sort of communities Wyoming produces. 

“That is what makes us the great place we are,” Gordon said. “I look forward to this winter and the months after will bring, because I do believe firmly that Wyoming does have the opportunity to demonstrate that this is the place that you can come and be safe, enjoy a great family opportunity, enjoy fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, boating, biking, whatever it is, in this great state and come away better for having experiencing it. A large part of that is because of you.”

Gordon said he hoped all who were watching the conference enjoyed what they learned. He acknowledged that Zooming was not optimum, but it worked.

“You folks have afforded a great opportunity for people from all over to enjoy Wyoming,” Gordon said. “Thank you for that.”

Shober thanked Gordon for the CARES funds that went out to the lodging tax boards across the state to assist in help promote the state.

“I am very concerned about our industries going forward,” Gordon said. “I will say Wyoming has put more money, more of our CARES dollars in a percent fashion out to small businesses around the state, really targeting towards those industries like bars, restaurants and hotels. They really need it and we have done a better job of that than any other state in the nation. That is because we know how important those businesses are.” 

After Gordon left, Shober and Brown concluded the summit.

“This industry is in it all together,” Shober said. “When we are all working together, the heavy lifting isn’t nearly so heavy.”


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