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Campbell County will track visitor activity for this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo

A saddle bronc rider competes at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette.
A saddle bronc rider competes at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette.

The Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau will be tracking the activities for visitors and participants at this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in July. The objective is to better understand where money is being spent and have that data broken down into specific time periods so local officials and businesses can plan for future events and decision making.

“Our understanding was, especially our elected officials wanted to know return on investment numbers and spending while we have events here like high school finals rodeo, and some of our public even has made comments about whether they think that it actually brings money into the community or not,” said Jessica Seders, Executive Director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism is also helping local officials with this goal by offering $130,000 for two years to spend on new projects. It’s part of their Destination Development Program that helps communities throughout the state develop and prepare for visitors. The allocated funds were previously collected through local lodging taxes that are being redistributed to the county. The Convention and Visitors Bureau paid $31,000 for Zartico, a geofencing software program that will provide a clearer picture of the spending situation for the NHSFR. Geofencing has been used by political campaigns to gather data on voters and by businesses to gather information on current and potential customers. They use radio frequency identification, Wi-Fi, GPS, or cellular data that triggers a mobile device whenever it leaves or enters an imaginary boundary set for a specific geographic area.

“It's only meant to help elevate the economy of the community by either supporting what we think's going on, or if it's not, then maybe we do need to change what we're working toward because if we don't have as large of economic impact coming off of events, but we won't know that until we see the data,” she said.

Local officials haven’t previously had in-depth capabilities to track visitor spending. The Wyoming Office of Tourism has provided formulas that are used to estimate the amount of money that’s spent locally, but they only provide figures for a whole year, not for shorter periods of time. The county commission has expressed interest in getting more detailed data about this to help with decision making.

“There's some that believe that the [rodeo] contestants more so travel in campers and things and stay with livestock out at Cam-plex property than they do in hotels, and they feel like they eat more out on Cam-plex property than they do in the restaurants,” Seders said. “There have been questions about whether more facilities should be constructed out at Cam-plex in order to support not just rodeo, but other large events.”

The Wyoming Office of Tourism has provided local officials with information on marketing firms they’ve had experience with. Campbell County had been searching for a company that would provide these services to measure the impact of events like athletic tournaments or parades for several years.

“It's information that's already being collected by your phone, [and] if you're on Facebook, or any other app that you allow permissions for your location, even maps on your iPhone that's tracking your location and that information can then be bought by companies,” she said. “We don't have the capability ourselves to find that out. That's why we work with companies like Zartico who can.”

The geofencing technology has local officials excited about the possibilities of what it could help provide for local government and tourism officials and for the local business community. It could even help provide more detailed information about what roads visitors and rodeo participants are using to get to this summer’s events.

“We'll actually be able to see how much economic impact even to our local events have and why it's important that we continue to support those organizations that are economic development, but maybe they're not ones that you think of as traditional economic development organizations,” she said.

Seders added other communities have implemented geofencing technology for public events. This includes Sheridan, which has used it at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo as well as in Cheyenne.

There’s also skepticism that some in the community, including from the county commission, that’s been voiced about this technology and the information it collects. But Seders wanted to allay any fears about what will and won’t be collected. The county itself will receive reports on spending behaviors but isn't directly involved with gathering this data.

“We can't see identifying information about people, we can't see your name, we don't know any of that,” she said. “All we know is if you were from our community or not and if the person spent money and where it was spent, was it at a restaurant hotel gas station. And again, that's all public [and] able for these companies to pull information from as well.”

Geofencing has become more common in communities nationwide as well and can track people as they travel from place to place.

“As people have been driving across the country on vacation and you've gone through all these other states, they have it set up, because that's how they're deciding where they're going to market their state at, what other places within the United States do they need to market; it's going to be based off of data that they've collected. That's been going on forever,” Seders said.

This year’s NHSFR will be held July 16-23 at the Cam-plex facilities.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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