Tourism in Sweetwater County thrived in 2023

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Wyo4News staff, [email protected]

February 5, 2024 — The Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board (SWCTTB) just released their 2023 annual report, announcing that the direct advertising efforts of the board generated $67 million in visitor spending in the county in 2023 (SMARI), and they have several new projects underway. The Sweetwater County lodging tax is administered by the SWCTTB with the sole purpose of generating visitation to the area through marketing and promotional efforts.

“We are thrilled to report that 2023 felt a lot like 2019 from a visitor volume perspective. Visitors worldwide are in awe of our wide-open spaces, abundant wildlife, epic outdoor adventure landscape, and warm hospitality,” said Jenissa Meredith, Chief Executive Officer of Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism. “While our advertising efforts alone generated $67 million in visitor spending in 2023, total visitor spending typically reaches almost $160 million (Dean Runyan), which is money realized in the cash registers of our valued local businesses. Tourism is big business in Sweetwater County, and it is an honor for us to showcase the area, the incredible products, services, and attractions, and to help visitors plan their time here in Wyoming,” added Meredith.

How was the Sweetwater County lodging tax spent in 2023?

Lodging Tax Budget Breakdown

  • 77% Multi-Media Marketing Campaign
  • 7% Event Grants (any non-profit, local event that generates lodging occupancy)
  • 3% Rock Springs and Green River Chambers of Commerce (staffing of visitor services)
  • 4% Sweetwater Events Complex (out-of-county marketing and event recruitment)
  • 9% Administration

How does the lodging tax work?

Election Year 2023

The Sweetwater County Local Option Lodging Tax was originally approved by Sweetwater County voters in 1991. Since 1991, local voters have approved the renewal of the tax every four years. The Sweetwater County Local Option Lodging Tax was on the ballot for renewal during the November 2022 General Election, and 81% of voters supported the tax.

What does tourism promotion mean to the local economy?

Travel Impact Studies

SWCTT commissions a conversion and advertising effectiveness study to determine the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns administered with lodging tax dollars.

  • Advertising Influenced almost $67 million in Visitor Spending
  • Advertising Influenced Over 51,000 Visits
  • ROI for every Advertising Dollar Spent $490
  • Average # of Days Spent in SWC 3.3
  • Average # of People in Travel Party 3
  • Average # of Activities in SWC 4.1
  • Average Trip Spending per Party: $1,309
  • New Data is available to track visitor attendance at events and throughout the county, which will help guide future SWCTT marketing efforts.

“Tourism marketing and product development generates visitor spending, which is realized as money going into the cash registers of local businesses. I am fortunate to work with an incredible team here at Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism, and we take our mission of growing the visitor economy very seriously,” said Jenissa Meredith.

What does Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism do?

Elk Street Visitor Center

Since 2020, Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism has operated the Explore Rock Springs and Green River, Wyoming Visitor Center at 1641 Elk Street in Rock Springs. Elk Street (Hwy 191) is the perfect location to offer information and encourage travelers to spend more time in Rock Springs and Green River as they travel to and from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In 2023 visitor traffic in the visitor center was triple what was seen in 2021 and 2022. SWCTT also supports the Rock Springs and Green River Chambers of Commerce through block grant funding for visitor services.

Event Recruitment

SWCTT works with several local partners to actively recruit to host events in Sweetwater County. Through block grant funding to the Sweetwater Events Complex, many RV rallies, equestrian events, and the National High School Finals Rodeo have all been recruited to and hosted in Sweetwater County over the years, generating thousands of visitors. Additionally, SWCTTB partnered with both the Rock Springs and Green River High Schools to recruit the 2023 & 2024 State High School 3A and 4A Boys and Girls Soccer Tournaments. “We will be hosting approximately 800 athletes, their families, and supporting coaches and staff for several days during these events, and we were so proud to be able to partner with both communities to make this happen. These events will generate an estimated $6 million in economic impact to the local economy over two years,” said Jenissa Meredith.

Local Event Grant Funding

Any non-profit organization hosting an event in Sweetwater County qualifies for lodging tax grant funding up to $8,000 per event. Grant hearings are held quarterly; grant information can be found at www.ExploreWY.com.

Events receiving lodging tax funding in 20223 include:

  • GREEN RIVER KNIGHTS INVITATIONAL BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
  • SWEETWATER BLUES & BREWS
  • MULE DEER DAYS
  • ART ON THE GREEN
  • RUDY GUNTER MEMORIAL WRESTLING TOURNAMENT
  • TRIPLE GOLD QUALIFIER BMX RACE
  • BATTLE IN THE SPRINGS SOCCER TOURNAMENT
  • SWEETWATER HIGH SCHOOL & JUNIOR HIGH SCH00L RODEO CHAMPIONSHIPS
  • NATIONAL TRAPPING ASSOCIATION WESTERN REGIONAL CONVENTION
  • WYOMING CHIROPRACTIC ASSOCIATION ANNUAL CONFERENCE
  • STATE LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
  • RIVER FESTIVAL
  • BABE RUTH 13-15 ALL-STAR BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
  • RED DESERT ROUNDUP RODEO
  • CO-ED TOUGH TURKEY VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
  • SNOWMAN STROLL
  • DECEMBER DUNK BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
  • FLAMING GORGE CLASSIC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
  • THOMAN INVITATIONAL WRESTLING TOURNAMENT
  • OVERLAND STAGE STAMPEDE RODEO
  • QUILTING ON THE GREEN
  • BUD CUP HOCKEY TOURNAMENT
  • MUSIC FOR VETS
  • SHIVER IN THE RIVER SWIM MEET
  • WESTERN WYOMING DISTRICT SWIM CHAMPIONSHIPS

TOURISM PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT & TOURISM MASTER PLAN

As visitors travel through Wyoming, they often are looking for ticketed attractions, rentals, restrooms, signage, and guided tours. With this in mind SWCTT has moved into tourism product development in recent years to further enhance the visitor experience beyond the traditional marketing efforts.

With the impact of the pandemic, SWCTT worked to prepare for any federal or state funding programs that might become available and developed a Tourism Master Plan in 2021 to address the product development needs. SWCTT worked with all local partners, governing bodies, and residents to develop the plan to be well vetted. The Master Plan was instrumental in being qualified to apply for several funding opportunities.

SWCTT works daily to move the plan forward by partnering daily with local industries, organizations, and leaders to gain mutual support, secure project funding, and host and serve on various boards and committees.

Rock Springs Way Finding Sign Program Update

Most notably, in 2023, as part of the SWC Tourism Master Plan, SWCTT used Destination Development funds from the Wyoming Office of Tourism to design and update the Rock Springs Way Finding Sign Program. Phase one of the signs is scheduled for installation in Summer 2024.

Flaming Gorge – Green River Basin All-American Road Designation

SWCTT has promoted the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway for decades. In 2021, SWCTT worked with corridor partners to update the Corridor Management Plan and submitted an application for the byway to be designated as an All-American Road – a destination unto itself. The application was successful, and the byway was designated as an All-American Road in 2021 as part of the National Scenic Byway Program. It is now one of only 37 All-American Roads in the United States. This designation provides opportunities for funding to build amenities along the byway, and SWCTT has submitted almost $2 million in grant applications so far for these projects.

Flaming Gorge Bus Tour

The Flaming Gorge Bus Tour is a full-day guided tour aboard an air-conditioned motorcoach that makes nine stops around the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Lunch, water, and snacks are all included for only $68/pp. SWCTT has hosted over 1,000 passengers since 2021 on the tours, and it has received incredible five-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Tours will continue in Summer 2024. Lucy Diggins-Wold, formerly with Wyoming Game and Fish, and Dawn Dale are the Flaming Gorge Tour Guides and provide fun facts and byway interpretation along the route. Tours will continue in Summer 2023.

Sand Boarding

Inspired by the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and many destinations around the world, SWCTT began selling sand boards in the summer of 2022 to encourage residents and visitors to explore and “surf” the Killpecker Sand Dunes.

KUTV2 News Partnership

SWCTT has been partnering with KUTV2 News out of the Salt Lake City market to feature local attractions for several years. In 2023, SWCTT featured the many businesses throughout Sweetwater County that offer rental services for everything from mountain bikes and ATVs to kayaks and innertubes.

Other Board Projects

SWCTT provided funding to Downtown Rock Springs for the Downtown Historic Walking Tour Brochure, the Christmas Lighted Display, and the Saturday Smores events that coincided with the Snowman Stroll.

SWCTT also secured funding from the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation to create and install a signage program for the new Mustang Loop Trail in Rock Springs.

Customer Service Program

The Sweetwater County Certified Tourism Ambassador program is a multi-faceted program that serves to increase tourism by inspiring front-line employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience. When visitors have a positive experience, they are more likely to return in the future and also share their experiences with others. Everyone benefits—the visitors, the industry, the local economy, and most importantly, the front-line worker. There are currently over 170 local Sweetwater County Certified Tourism Ambassadors.

COST/RENEWAL

There is a one-time, non-refundable, non-transferable application fee of $39 and an annual renewal fee of $19 per person. In addition to the renewal fee, CTAs must log 50 CTA points throughout the year, earned through a variety of activities.

CLASS SCHEDULE/ENROLLMENT

For a class schedule and online enrollment, go to www.ctanetwork.com. If you have any questions, please call 307-382-2538.

Hospitality Awards Program The Sweetwater County Travel & Tourism Board recognizes outstanding customer service in the local lodging industry through the R.E.A.C.H. Awards Program. R.E.A.C.H. stands for Rare and Exceptional Achievement for Customer Service in Hospitality. “We can deploy a great deal of targeted marketing and work to enhance the amenities here in Sweetwater County, but if visitors have a bad experience with a front-line employee when they get here, it is all for not. The R.E.A.C.H. awards luncheon is conducted each quarter of the year to recognize our outstanding hospitality employees who proudly represent us every day. They are truly the backbone of the Sweetwater County Tourism industry,” said Jenissa Meredith.