SHERIDAN — Due to lockdowns and restrictions throughout the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic, declines in travel and tourism has affected many tourist towns. Sheridan, likewise, relies on tourism as part of its contribution to the economy.
While the travel and tourism industry took a hit globally and locally, locals anticipate a positive recovery in the industry in 2021.
The overall shift in total decline was directly impacted by the 56% decline in transportation spending, which was influenced by reduced air volume and price decreases in gasoline, according to the Wyoming Office of Tourism’s study on the economic impact of 2020. In almost every category — including leisure and hospitality, travel industry employment, travel spending and food services — there were losses in 2020. The U.S. travel industry’s largest loss was in transportation, which suffered around a $186 billion deficit from 2019.
Tourism supports 7% of total employment in Wyoming, an estimated 1 in every 10 jobs. Wyoming’s travel economy declined 23%, which is comparatively better then the 36% decline the U.S. experienced overall.
Sheridan County Travel and Tourism Director Shawn Parker serves on the state tourism board and, along with the 28,630 people in the state working directly in the travel industry, is looking forward to a promising 2021. WYO Rodeo is one of the main events in Sheridan returning, creating a sense of normalcy this year. Other events, like P.O. News’ 150 year anniversary, The Sheridan Press Sports Awards, a Kentucky Derby Party hosted by Downtown Sheridan Association and Welcome Market Hall and Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon program have already taken place.
“I’d like to think with the events back on the calendar and the advanced bookings, I am going to be pretty cautiously optimistic that we approach 2019 numbers and hopefully we get pretty close,” Parker said about attendance.
Parker and his team started a campaign called “The Backyard” that will continue this year even with regular tourist attractions reopening without the restrictions experienced last year. The campaign targeted where people can safely go on a COVID-19-friendly adventure where venues are not as populated.
Mikayla Larrow, executive director of Museum at the Bighorns, said the museum is privately funded, with quite a bit of funding coming from admissions and gift shop sales. Without visitors coming at the pace of previous years, the museum struggled financially. Last year was not generous for the museum, Larrow said, as they had problems with their roof and could not hold a fundraiser due to restrictions.
“Not having the ability to interact with our community and visitors has been very hard and difficult to operate in the way we are supposed to as a museum,” Larrow said.
Although it has been quiet for the last year, the museum is finally opening up to school tours and welcoming many of the elementary students to come experience the museum. Museum will again host walking tours, including “Sheridan Disasters” taking place June 5, July 3, July 31 and Aug. 28, as well as “Red-Light District” that will take place June 19, July 17 and Aug. 14.
With hopes of again reaching 2019 participation and financial numbers, Sheridan County businesses and organizations will continue preparing for a busy tourist season that includes tour buses and events for visitors and locals.