The tourism industry is optimistic that Yellowstone closing won’t impact the season too much
Yellowstone National Park was closed for a little over a week due to historic flooding but the southern loop reopened this week. As Wyoming's most well known attraction, gateway communities are nervous about how this will impact the state's second biggest industry. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska asked the Wyoming Office of Tourism's executive director Diane Shober how the closing mid-season impacted the industry.
Diane Shober: In this particular situation it was interesting because the people who were in the park were quickly and safely moved out into the gateway communities. And I think a lot of people who were planning to go spent time in other communities around Wyoming, which is ultimately what we always want, is for them to spend more time. So there were benefits there. But there's other ripple effects. Group travel business, which would maybe not be overnighting in the park, but maybe they were staying in other places. They've canceled some trips during that time, which in turn meant that they weren't going to the Cody Nite Rodeo or some other things. But I mean, we're so grateful to the park service for moving quickly to implement some kind of managed plan to be able to allow access back into Yellowstone.
Kamila Kudelska: Even with the park reopening, and only half of the park for now is open, people seem to just think that Yellowstone is closed or they're just getting mixed messages. How are you as the state tourism office, working to try to get that correct message out?
DS: The main thing really is to make sure that people know that Yellowstone is open and that the trip has always been one of a journey of visiting all of our local communities. And we're just really working hard to make sure that people who were planning to go on a trip, their experience can still be every bit as wonderful as what it had always been. And that if you go into the park, visitors aren't going to see the areas that were affected. So if the north Loop opens next week or within the next two weeks, that's really the main part of Yellowstone. If you've been in there, the roads are a figure eight. The main roads and both the northern loop and the southern loop are open. And so unfortunately the areas in Mammoth and the Lamar Valley and the gateway communities of Cooke City and Gardener, which have been the most impacted, but to the visitor who's coming in, either through West Yellowstone or the east or south gate in Wyoming, they'll still have access to 80 percent of the park. And so that's good news, you know, the experience can still be the same. And we do, as you said, we have a responsibility to make sure that people who are planning their trips for July, August, September, that they don't cancel. This is still a great way to vacation. And you still will have that experience of Yellowstone.
KK: At the moment, the park is having restricted access. But if you have a reservation, you can get into the park no matter what. So I think maybe that limited access might also deter some people from wanting to go into the park or wanting to cancel their trip. So I wonder how you might be working on that as well?
DS: Really elevating all of the day trip activities, not just in the gateway communities, but in the gateways to the gateways. So just planning ahead. And also it gives us an opportunity to really highlight many of the tour operators, like the commercial use operators…bike tours, day trip tours out of the gateway communities. There's really an opportunity for people to still see Yellowstone in a variety of ways. And there are other things that are also impacting travel, regardless of this. I mean, the rising price of gas. t's going to be difficult to try to discern what that difference is. It so far had not been impacting any advance reservations or other travels. But, I mean, who knows how high it might go. It looks like things are gonna get a little bit better, and we're gonna get some relief maybe. Fortunately, Americans really hold strongly to their summer vacations and Wyoming has always done better than most in economically difficult times. I mean, Wyoming is a vacation destination. So even during COVID, we fared much better than the nation did and in most other states. We really did. We may not have the summer that we had hoped for this year, but we were poised to have an excellent summer. And so even if we still have a very good summer, that will still be a win in spite of this. And I just applaud the park service for working really hard to make sure that there is access to Yellowstone because it's not just Wyoming - this whole region, the Mountain West, my colleagues in Utah and South Dakota and Montana and Idaho, we've all been in conversations around consistent messaging with Yellowstone.
KK: And so you mentioned all the other previous hurdles that we've had to jump through: gas prices, inflation, the  recession and of course, the pandemic was the biggest one. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how the tourism industry is doing that and how it has learned from the past?
DS: The thing that I appreciate the most about this industry, and I think it really is, it's the beauty of living and working in Wyoming. It is, as you know, this last bastion of the West. The least populated state in the nation. We all know each other. We're friends, like, you and I know each other. I mean, we're all accessible to one another. And so when we put out a notice to have an industry wide call with attractions and hotels and dude ranches and Cheyenne Frontier Days, you know, people all across the state coming together to rally around this together. And when everybody is working together, the heavy lifting is not so heavy. And Yellowstone is the inspiration for the majority of our visitor economy, and so this has a little bit of a different feel to it.