UW tourism survey: Weston County vastly undermarketed

Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor


A recent tourism study completed by students at the University of Wyoming concluded that Weston County, and other parts of northeast Wyoming, were vastly undermarketed and that tourism information was hard — if not impossible — to find online. 

The study was part of a recent project completed by University of Wyoming students who were nearing completion of an outdoor recreation and tourism management degree. The tourism asset assessments completed on 14 counties, including Weston, will aid the Wyoming Department of Tourism in promotions for each of the areas, according to an April 19 press release from the university describing the assessment and announcing a cumulative presentation of the students’ findings. 

The asset assessments, according to a press release dated April 19, include main attractions, hidden gems and local recommendations for recreational, cultural, lodging and food options. The students also looked at lodging tax funding, the local economy, travel impact data and industries that include travel and tourism. 

“Students traveled to these counties, met with local stakeholders, visited sites and are compiling their findings,” the release says. “The students’ findings will help guide the Office of Tourism’s 2022 destination development program for each county, including elevating Wyoming’s hidden gems and under-the radar experiences to key travelers.” 

According to Dan McCoy, director of the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Initiative with the University of Wyoming, reported that the Wyoming Office of Tourism aided the students in the project by helping to provide stakeholders and contacts in each community. The stakeholders interviewed for Weston County, according to the presentation, included Anna Miller Museum Board President Cindy Rhoades and Jen Womack with Sagebrush Marketing. 

The students – Zach Ward, Kyler Muffett and Sarah Reed – presented the findings of their project on April 28 in person and over Zoom. The three students visited Johnson, Campbell, Crook and Weston counties. 

According to the presentation, Weston County receives the least amount of state share of the  lodging tax for the four surveyed communities, at some $62,000 a year. Campbell County, on the other hand, receives $466,000 annually, while Johnson County draws $309,000 and Crook County tallies $127,000.

Based on their visit to Weston County, the students highlighted the Jenney Stockade Cabin at the Anna Miller Museum, Old Town in Upton, the Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center east of Sundance, the Weston County Courthouse and Schoolhouse Gulch in the presentation. They also mentioned the Thunder Basin National Grassland and access to the Black Hills. 

The main takeaway from the three students was that Weston County is vastly undermarketed, and they indicated information on tourism opportunities was hard to find online. Specifically, their findings showed that Weston County is “out of the way of many travelers,” “needs more destination marketing,” “has recreation opportunity that is vastly ignored,” and that the county has a “historical presence that could be better played into.” 

To address these issues, the students suggested that the county needs more outdoor recreation promotion and a map of trail systems in the county. 

“Weston County needs to find ways to get tourists to drop down into the county rather than just passing through Crook and stopping at the gas stations in Weston,” Reed said during the presentation. 

In addition to county-specific recommendations, the group recommended that all four counties could benefit from increased education in the community, as well as from working with University of Wyoming tourism students. They also suggested better promotion of the county as a destination and better promotion of its communities as gateways and stops to on the way to Yellowstone. 

Muffett also suggested that Northeast Wyoming consider a passport system, which had previously been attempted. The idea, he said, is that travelers receive stamps from various tourist destinations in the different counties, with some kind of incentive for completing the passport during their trip. 

The students concluded that the counties and the communities in them have an overall lack of knowledge on tourism, and they also indicated they encountered pushback from locals, most specifically in Crook County. They said that feedback from locals and even some signs and displays expressed a preconception that residents found those from other areas distasteful. The students specifically mentioned a sign that said “don’t Teton County my Crook County.” 

In conclusion, they largely blamed a lack of promotion and developed destinations for the lack of tourism in the area, suggesting that addressing both areas could benefit the various communities. 

“There is a desire among stakeholders for increased tourism and a desire for growth in existing programs,” Reed said. “And there is plentiful opportunity to establish individual towns as tourism hot spots.” 

For more information on the project, or to receive a recorded copy of the presentation, please contact McCoy by calling 307-766-5009 or emailing him at dan.mccoy@uwyo.edu.

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