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Crowds watch the main event from the back of their trucks alongside the Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo skijoring course Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.

More than 100 professionals from Wyoming’s hospitality and tourism sector came together at the Best Western in Sheridan last week for the industry’s Fall Summit.

I have lived on the periphery of this industry for years through my connections to rodeo in Sheridan and across the region, but in my new role as Sheridan County Travel and Tourism’s destination development coordinator, it is my job to understand best how SCTT can leverage tourism spending to benefit our community. The excitement and energy in the room told me this is an industry that thrives on relationships and working together to make a positive impact.

Fall Summit was a crash course on the impact of tourism to our local economy, and it provided me with a new perspective on this beautiful community. As a local, I had never given much thought to tourism — except, perhaps, when I had to wait for an extra car or two at a four-way stop, or if I happened to sit down next to an interesting soul while waiting for a table at Wyoming Rib and Chop.

It was remarkable to learn that visitors spend more than $115 million each year in Sheridan County. I have always enjoyed conversing with visitors and sharing with them what I like to do in Sheridan, but this glimpse at the total impact of tourism spending paints an incredible picture of opportunity.

The Fall Summit caused me to reflect on why I love Sheridan — the wide-open spaces, all four seasons of wild Wyoming weather and the serenity of the countryside. While we may be worried that too many people invading our space will take these great qualities away from our home, that isn't the case. People are visiting here because they seek these remarkable qualities, and we are fortunate to share them.

I have always had a sense that tourism is big business in Wyoming, but it was remarkable to learn it is the second-largest industry in our state and employs more than any other sector. Tourism is vital for our local economy. Around 400,000 visitors spend at least one night in Sheridan County each year, each with their own interests in our spectacular scenery, history and heritage, hospitality, restaurants and more. What I found is that tourism is a large part of what keeps our historic downtown thriving. The dozens of shops, restaurants, galleries and locally owned businesses are keystone attractions.

During the Fall Summit, tourism agencies and professionals from around the state met to share and discuss best practices. It was eye-opening to see what the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition discussed concerning federal legislative and workforce issues and their impact on our local community.

Topics such as tourism improvement districts and a new film production incentive were discussed in detail, with an end goal of generating additional revenue — and therefore jobs — to our state. As a local, I was unaware of both of these initiatives, and after being educated on them, I see the opportunities they would allow if passed. The industry also discussed the challenges brought forth by the pandemic, and how, from Cheyenne to Sheridan and all points in between, it has worked to address these challenges to benefit all of our local communities.

Mandy Smith is destination development coordinator for Sheridan County Travel and Tourism. 

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