The home stretch of 2020 is upon us. After a disastrous spring and a turbulent summer, what does the second half of fall and winter have in store for the local travel and tourism economy? About the only thing anyone seems to be sure of is that no one is sure. But there are plenty of positives to focus on as we close out the year.

First, a quick look at some data. 2020 trails 2019 in some important indicator categories. The first is raw occupancy, or the percentage of rooms sold. For July and August, the community is down 25.5% and 21.3%, respectively. Which is not all that bad, considering how rough the spring and early summer were. But when you combine those figures with a large dip in average daily rate, or what the average room in town goes for each night, things get a little more worrisome.

For the record, July and August saw dips of 19.5% and 12.1% in ADR, respectively. Overall, we’re trending in the right direction, but we still have some ground to make up — especially given that we were seeing increases in occupancy and ADR for long stretches prior to March 2020.

All this has led to a decrease in lodging tax collections of 30.09%. Now for the tricky part — is that reduction an accurate representation of the current state of our local travel and tourism industry? I would suggest that it is but one indicator, and that we should look at a few other relevant bits of data for more context.

First, we know that visitor habits have changed since the pandemic began. The number of visitors through the door at the Information Center have increased for some dates year over year, but we have seen a massive spike in the number of people coming out in RVs, renting vacation homes rather than booking traditional hotel accommodations, and spending time camping.

We have also seen our bus traffic come to a screeching halt — a segment of business that typically books out a large volume of rooms. And while I will not have further data on this until the spring, anecdotal evidence suggests that we have visitors staying here in town longer than usual as well, and that they are spending more. Much of this is positive news, and why we have seen record business at some tourism-servicing operations, as well as increased spending across Sheridan County. Remember that our local tourism economy is a $115-million-dollar-a-year industry and employs more than 1,000 people, so there is much at stake.

I believe that Sheridan County, and Wyoming as a whole, has been able to persist in 2020 not only because we have a reputation for being a safe, open destination, but because the people of our community have done what has been necessary to survive and thrive.

And I believe that we will continue to recover more quickly than many other destinations, through this year and next, because we know how to be creative, but we also know how to be thoughtful when planning for the future. I think it is a given that we will remain a safe, open destination, because we are vigilant folk that care about the safety and wellbeing of one another.

For our part, my team has been hard at work at deploying messaging that encourages people to visit Sheridan County in a safe manner; you can see some of our latest campaign efforts, including our WY We Stand messaging, and our new multi-media campaign and TV show, "The Backyard," by visiting sheridanwyoming.org.

Shawn Parker is executive director of Sheridan County Travel and Tourism.

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