Putting heads in local beds

Travel and Tourism shares annual update

Tourism is an important industry for Sweetwater County, and strengthening the local economy by "putting heads in beds" is "the entire purpose of our efforts" for Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism, according to President and CEO Jenissa Meredith.

The Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board recently released their 2023 Annual Report, and Meredith gave an annual update to the Green River City Council during Tuesday night's meeting.

Meredith explained that the Lodging Tax is currently bringing in a little over $1.2 million to be used for advertising, and advertising efforts have influenced almost $67 million in visitor spending, meaning that for every dollar spent on advertising, there's a return on investment to the economy of $490.

The Lodging Tax, which is collected when visitors stay in the county, was originally approved by Sweetwater County voters in 1991. The tax is voted on every four years, and it typically passes at 78-82%, according to Meredith.

"Local residents really understand the value of the lodging tax," Meredith said.

Lodging tax revenue is required to be spent on marketing and advertising purposes, Meredith explained. In 2023, 77% of the Lodging Tax was used for an in-depth marketing plan. Other funds also go towards event grants and the Green River and Rock Springs Chambers of Commerce and Sweetwater Events Complex.

Travel and Tourism also works to recruit events to come to Sweetwater County. Last year they recruited the 2023 and 2024 State 3A and 4A Boys and Girls Soccer Tournaments, which will generate a $6 million economic impact for the local economy, Meredith explained.

Events hosted by local nonprofits also qualify for lodging tax funds, and Travel and Tourism can help groups decide when is the best time to host an event by using a heat map that tracks visitor occupancy in the county through the year.

Another key component for Travel and Tourism is their Strategic Master Plan that was developed in 2021. The plan was well-vetted, Meredith said, and used input from 24 local leaders as well as almost 300 visitor surveys and almost 300 resident surveys.

"We want to make sure that we have a roadmap going forward for spending these tax dollars," Meredith explained.

Using the plan, Travel and Tourism is consistently making plans and starting new projects. One of the current projects is updating the way finding system in Rock Springs with new signs, which will be going up soon. Another project that is ongoing is developing the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway, which was designated as an All-American Road. Travel and Tourism has currently applied for over $2 million in funds for the road, and Meredith said they have applications in to build turnouts at Henry's Fork and Black's Fork, and they want to look at Clay Basin as a possible site for restroom facilities.

Many Travel and Tourism programs have seen success in the past few years and are continuing to operate and expand, according to Meredith, including the Flaming Gorge Bus Tours and Sand Boarding.

Another important aspect of Travel and Tourism is public relations. Part of this effort involves hosting press trips for publications like magazines, bringing writers in and showing them around so they can write editorials highlighting Sweetwater County. In 2023, Sweetwater County was mentioned or featured in over 240 articles. Meredith explained that if the county had paid for this coverage it would have cost $14.5 million.

In order to better understand the big picture of the full economic impact on the county, Travel and Tourism commissions an annual travel impact study to determine the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns administered with lodging tax dollars. The most recent study determined that advertising influenced over 51,289 visits to the county with an average of three people in each travel party spending an average of 3.3 days and spending an average of $1,309. This is how Meredith determined that advertising efforts have influenced almost $67 million in visitor spending in the county.

After Meredith's presentation to the Green River City Council, several council members thanked Meredith and Travel and Tourism for all the work they've done.

"You've done a fabulous job at putting Green River and Rock Springs and Sweetwater County itself on the map," Councilmember Sherry Bushman said.

 

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