SWEETWATER COUNTY —The Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board mission to “enhance the economy of Sweetwater County by attracting and retaining visitors” is alive and well and working for the community.

The Travel and Tourism Board is a Joint Powers Board charged with administering the 4% county lodging tax and is made up of 11 appointed volunteers — six from Rock Springs, two from Green River, one from Wamsutter, one from Superior and one from the County.

The 4% county lodging tax is intended to be used to develop tourism and enhance the local economy by bringing visitors to the area who will stay in the local hotels and RV parks, eat at local restaurants and shop at local retailers. To do so, the board purchases advertising, provides funding for local events that draw out of county attendance, provides funding to maintain the Rock Springs and Green River visitor centers, supports marketing and event recruitment efforts at the Sweetwater Events Complex and works to recruit conventions and sporting events to the area. Lodging tax collection in the 2019-2020 fiscal year was $1,062,309.

BUDGET BREAKDOWN

— 76%: Marketing plan

— 8%: Event grants

— 4%: Chamber of Commerce Block Grants

— 4%:- Sweetwater Events Complex Block Grant

— 8%: Administration

RELOCATION

In April 2020, Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism relocated their office to 1641 Elk Street and opened the Explore Rock Springs and Green River, Wyoming Visitor Center. Elk Street (Highway 191) is the perfect location to offer information and encourage travelers to spend more time in Rock Springs and Green River as they travel to and from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, according to a press release.

EVENT RECRUITMENT

Since 2010, Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board worked with several local partners to successfully recruit numerous events to Sweetwater County which have brought thousands of visitors to the area. These events include the 2013 and 2014 State Boys and Girls High School Soccer Tournaments, as well as the State High School Speech and Debate Tournaments in 2012-2014, 2017, and 2020. Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board recently recruited the 2022 and 2023 State 3A and 4A High School Girls and Boys Soccer Tournaments which will bring more than 800 students and their families to the area each year.

The Board also focuses additional efforts towards the international travel market by developing collateral materials, providing the visitor guide in five languages, will host several familiarization tours and attending the International Roundup, which was canceled in 2020.

INVOLVEMENT

Jenissa Meredith, executive director of Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board is involved with may committees including: Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition (past president), Sweetwater County Event Recruitment Committee (chairman), Sweetwater County Lodging Association (chairman), Rock Springs Beautification Committee (chairman), Flaming Gorge Promotions Committee (vice-chairman), Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition (support member) and the Sweetwater County Outdoor Recreation Collaborative (steering committee member).

HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY SUPPORT

R.E.A.C.H. AWARDS: The Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board awards and recognizes employees and businesses quarterly throughout the county that excel at customer service in the tourism industry with the R.E.A.C.H. (Rare and Exceptional Achievement for Customer service in Hospitality) award. The Importance of these efforts warrants consistent recognition for the employees that are truly the backbone of the Sweetwater County Tourism industry, according to the release.

SWEETWATER COUNTY CERTIFIED TOURISM AMBASSADOR PROGRAM: A new program is the Sweetwater County Tourism Ambassador program is a multi-faceted program that serves to increase tourism by inspiring front-line employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience. When visitors have a positive experience, they are more likely to return in the future and also share their experience with others. Everyone benefits - the visitors, the industry, the local economy, and most importantly, the front-line worker, according to the release.

WHY CHOOSE THE SWEETWATER COUNTY TOURISM AMBASSADOR PROGRAM?: What separates the Sweetwater County Tourism Ambassador Program from other training programs is that it’s a certification, not just training. Employees and volunteers who complete the program receive a credential and accompanying initials that can be used behind that person’s name to denote their commitment to their profession e.g., John Doe, CTA. The CTA logo may also be used on your website, business card/communications with approval. Program benefits include: build valuable skills; career advancement; networking opportunities; receive frequent tourism updates on events, and more; and provides meaningful credential. There is a one-time, non-refundable, non-transferable application fee of $39 and an annual renewal fee of $19 per person. In addition to the renewal fee, CTAs must log 50 CTA points throughout the year, earned through a variety of activities. For class schedule and online enrollment, go to www.ctanetwork.com.

BOARD PROJECTS

ROAD TRIPPIN’: Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board partnered with KUTV Channel 2 News from Salt Lake City, Utah to feature the new Explore Rock Springs & Green River, WY Visitor Center and businesses in downtown Rock Springs.

RED DESERT MAP: Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board sponsored the development of a Map of the Red Desert.

FLAMING GORGE SCENIC BYWAY: Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board has worked to promote the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway for decades and recently submitted an application to the Federal Highway Administration to designate the byway as an All-American Road as part of the National Scenic Byway program. This designation would open up opportunities for funding to build out turn outs, interpretive signage and amenities along the byway. The status of the application is still under review.

GOOGLE DMO PROGRAM: Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board had great success this year joining the Google DMO Partnership Program, according to the release. The program is designed to provide tools and tactics to improve the completeness, quality and accuracy of destination content across Google Maps, Destination Travel Guides and more. As part of the program, Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism made 206 contributions to Google to update and improve content available to Google users. One-Hundred forty-four photos were uploaded, and 48 edits were made to businesses listings. The photos uploaded have had more than 800,000 views and those numbers continue to grow. They continue to monitor Google to make sure information is accurate and up to date. Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board is also considered a “My Business Provider,” which allows them to provide businesses with verification codes to verify their businesses and update information quickly.

DESTINATIONNEXT AND STRATEGIC TOURISM PLAN

Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board partnered with the Wyoming Office of Tourism and Young Strategies to create a 5-year strategic plan. This plan will better position Sweetwater County for future growth as a travel destination by identifying opportunities and strategies for growth, from a development lens, as well as the exploration of regional and multi-county opportunities.

DestinationNEXT is a self-assessment online survey, that was taken by 50-75 travel industry leaders and local stakeholders in Sweetwater County, to identify destination strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, aimed at identifying future development opportunities. Young Strategies presented the survey results at a dedicated planning session.

The Strategic Plan provides multi-year destination guidance for the Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism board and community leaders.

Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board’s strategic plan includes: continue to build the brand; Develop tourism products and experiences; Support the development and retention of quality hospitality workforce; Advocate for travel industry issues; Align strategic planning efforts with Local partners; and Marketing campaigns.

Due to the effects of COVID-19, Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board received CARES ACT DMO Relief Funds in 2020. Typically, each year Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board deploys a spring marketing campaign to encourage summer visitation, however with the CARES ACT funding, Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board was also able to deploy a Fall/Winter campaign to support visitation during those seasons.

“Wyoming is the ideal destination for people to explore with their loved ones, in wide open spaces and to disconnect from the overwhelming sense of fear surrounding COVID-19 during these unprecedented times. Our low population, expansive public land and location off of Interstate 80, make Sweetwater County a perfect stop along the way of that Wyoming adventure. It also makes it a perfect location to relocate to,” Meredith said in the release.

Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board developed and deployed a marketing campaign encouraging visitors to Stay Clean, Stay Safe and Stay Informed while traveling responsibly in southwest Wyoming. The fall/winter campaign included COVID-19 specific messaging: “Here in Sweetwater County, we'll be ready to welcome you back when the time is right. And now more than ever, the well-being of locals, visitors and wildlife are a top priority. When you’re ready to explore again, remember to travel responsibly so we can all enjoy the epic adventures and wild beauty only found in Rock Springs and Green River. In the meantime, discover vivid imagery, videos and virtual tours of Southwest Wyoming to inspire your future getaways.”

MARKETING IMPACT

Together, the campaigns generated almost 17,000 travel guide requests and 54,000 Sweetwater County e-newsletter subscriptions. To measure the effectiveness of the campaign Sweetwater County Joint Travel and Tourism Board commissioned a conversion and advertising effectiveness study by SMARI Insights.

The study was completed in November 2020 and it was determined that the Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism marketing campaign influenced almost 58,000 visits to the area. The average travel party consists of 2.8 people and the average stay was 3.4 days.

SWEETWATER COUNTY JOINT TRAVEL AND TOURISM BOARD 2020 SMARI CONVERSION/ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS STUDY:

— The advertising worked to influence travel from all target markets including Denver, Salt Lake City and Wyoming.

— Sweetwater County advertising generated almost 800,000 aware households in the target markets.

— The advertising exceled at communicating many intended messages, most notably “vast landscapes full of endless natural beaty and escape to the comfort of wide-open spaces.”

— The advertising influenced $73 million in visitor spending

— The advertising ROI was $330 for every $1 spent

TOP 5 SWEETWATER COUNTY VISITOR ACTIVITIES:

— Yellowstone National Park

— Outdoor Activities (Fishing, Hiking, Camping, Biking, Climbing, Rafting)

— Wildlife Viewing

— Grand Teton National Park

— Self-Guided Driving Tours

Each year the Wyoming Office of tourism commissions extensive research to determine the total travel spending in each county in Wyoming.

Wyoming Office of Tourism: Total Travel Spending in Sweetwater County 2019, Dean Runyan.

— Total travel spending in 2019: $160.1 million

— Visitors to Sweetwater County in 2019: 609,000

— Visitor pending supported: 1,460 Jobs

— Visitor spending saved each Sweetwater County household: $502

— Overnight stays in 2019: 1.4 million

— Total earnings by Sweetwater County residents working in tourism industry: $35.6 million

— Sweetwater County visitors paid in taxes: $8.5 million

WEBSITE AWARDS: WWW.TOURWYOMING.COM

The Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board recently received two awards for their new website at www.TourWyoming.com. Travel Weekly and the Web Marketing Association both recognized the site for outstanding quality.

The website, that was revised and re-launched in March 2020, is designed to be a resource to inspire potential visitors and help them plan their trip. The site features sample itineraries, a local event calendar, a photo and video gallery, a restaurant and lodging listing, detailed descriptions of area attractions and more. The website is also a great resource for residents to stay up to date on local events and to find new places to explore nearby.

“All of our marketing efforts direct potential visitors to our website, so it is critically important that the site be up to date, responsive, visually engaging and user friendly,” Meredith said in the release. “We are truly honored to be considered, alongside destination web sites around the world, and to receive this recognition from both organizations. We are proud to represent all that is great about Sweetwater County through our website.”

FUTURE PROJECTS

Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board will tentatively be launching a Flaming Gorge Tour in the summer 2021

For more information call 307-382-2538.

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