CHEYENNE – Daniel Cuomo and his girlfriend, Ellie Fletcher, are almost halfway through their cross-country road trip.
The Hartford, Connecticut, natives have meticulously drafted their travel plans, which kicked off nearly two years ago during a night of “a few glasses of wine and a National Geographic special about national parks.” The two stockpiled paid time off and tax refunds to afford the trip, and finally, seven days ago, they set out to see parts unknown in their 2007 Toyota Corolla.
Cuomo, asking for directions at the Visit Cheyenne information kiosk in the Cheyenne Depot, smirks on his way out, catching a glimpse of a real Wyoming cowboy, finished with large Western spurs on the back of his leather boots.
“These are the kinds of things we hoped to see out here,” he said. “Something we’ve only seen in Old West movies. It makes you a worldlier person to be able to tell stories about what Wyoming is like.”
When asked how long they’re in town before they head south to Colorado and into the American Southwest, he said, “You can’t make me go.”
Cuomo and Fletcher are just two of the 8.5 million visitors that come to Wyoming every year, each seeking their own slice of cowboy culture or outdoor recreation.
Those visitors spend more than $3.2 billion while vacationing in Wyoming, generating $170 million in local and state tax revenues.
For this, and many other reasons, the Wyoming Office of Tourism is launching its third year of the “That’s WY” travel campaign.
In 2017, Wyoming saw a 2.4 percent increase in visitors, in part due to the total solar eclipse in August. The bureau will focus on larger urban markets such as Chicago, Denver, Portland and Salt Lake City through a medley of mixed-media advertising. It’s also working in conjunction with the nationwide marketing company Brand USA.
The $5.2 million campaign investment will showcase stories of Wyoming, including the Continental Divide, and Mormon and Oregon trails.
“One of the reasons this campaign is successful is because it is very emotional and authentic,” said Tia Troy, media relations manager for the Office of Tourism. “It kind of touches people in a way you don’t see a lot of creatives doing.”
Troy said although the state’s calling card will always be Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, many visitors take to heart things natives and residents may take for granted.
“Even the fact that rodeo is firmly pumping through everyone’s veins,” she said. “We don’t have fake anything in Wyoming.”
This year, she said the agency is putting an emphasis on keeping visitors in the state longer.
The office also unveiled a redesigned website that targets the needs of the traveling public. A three-month user study illustrated how visitors were interacting with the website and how to better design it with the needs of tourists in mind.
“The main toolbar across the top reflects what people are looking for,” Troy said. “So the information is easier to access and the content is more thorough. Our hope is they will utilize the site to meet our partners, destinations and cities.”
The campaign is already well-known in many Wyoming communities, even becoming something of an endearing joke among locals.
“I’m not even sure how I know the slogan, but my friends and I use ‘That’s WY’ whenever we see something that is something you would only see in Wyoming, even if it’s not always good,” said Mason Reed, a University of Wyoming student from Cheyenne. “It’s in good fun, though.”
Cuomo and Fletcher decided to stay in Cheyenne another two days, putting plans for the Mojave Desert on hold.
“We came here for the reputation, I guess,” he said. “But it’s more than an old movie, and we want to see more of it.”