Tourism OK in Buffalo despite Yellowstone closure | News

BUFFALO — It was not the tourist season that local businessmen expected.

After a record-setting season in Johnson County in 2021 in the wake of COVID-19, flooding in Yellowstone National Park and subsequent park closure derailed travel plans and threatened to derail tourism in the area.

But while business owners said Yellowstone’s brief closure had a definite impact, tourism remained strong.

“I think there’s been a significant amount of people traveling this year,” said David Stewart, owner of the Historic Occidental Hotel and Blue Gables Motel. “I mean, it’s not a blowout, but it’s definitely been a good season.”

In mid-June, as officials evacuated Yellowstone National Park and closed its gates to massive flooding, local hotels and campgrounds saw a series of cancellations. Two months later, business owners said walk-ins largely offset those cancellations, though not entirely.

Stewart said the Occidental, a “destination” stop that often draws repeat visitors, was able to continue largely as normal, while Blue Gables saw a decline from the previous year.

Traffic at Deer Park Campground is also down compared to last year, said Ann Kavanagh, the campground’s owner.

“We lost a lot of previous bookings for that period, because people were running scared and afraid they couldn’t get in somewhere else,” Kavanagh said.

The story was the same across the state, where demand for hotel rooms was down 10% and hotel revenue was down nearly 18%, according to the Wyoming Office of Tourism.

“This large decline in June correlates with the drop in visits to Yellowstone caused by flooding,” Piper Singer Cunningham, tourism bureau communications manager, wrote in an email to the Bulletin.

See also  "LaLiga continues without doing anything"

Yellowstone was looking forward to a banner year with 150th anniversary events planned throughout the summer. The 150th anniversary came on the heels of a record year in 2021, when nearly 4.9 million people visited.

Buffalo is a popular stop between the Black Hills and Yellowstone, and visitors often head in that direction.

But in June of this year, the month of the floods, Yellowstone visitation fell 43% compared to June 2021. In July, most of the park was open, but visitor numbers dropped by half, from almost 1.3 million in 2021 to about 650,000 in 2022.

However, that has not necessarily led to a drop in local tourism.

“We don’t even hear about Yellowstone now, and the people who come now, most of them aren’t even worried because they weren’t planning on going there anyway,” Kavanagh said. “There’s a lot of Wyoming that people come to see that doesn’t involve Yellowstone.”

While this summer still felt busy, especially with the COVID-19 summer of 2020 still fresh on people’s minds, sales were down noticeably at the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, said Sylvia Bruner, director of the museum.

In July, the museum store had $9,076 in sales. That’s more than July 2020, when the store made $8,255, but almost $2,000 less than the flagship year of 2021, as well as $1,000 less than 2019, before the pandemic.

Bruner attributed the decline to the closure of Yellowstone and said he had heard from other attractions in the area that their sales were similarly affected.

“I suspect it’s a pretty broad effect for tourism in general, but it’s definitely a bummer,” he said.

See also  Couple Marries in Helium Balloon 450 Feet Above Royal Caribbean's Private Island

A positive point was the reopening of the northern border.

Passage to and from Canada was severely restricted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but travel has started to increase again. Business owners reported that an abnormally large number of Canadians visited Buffalo this summer.

Border crossings in Montana saw more than 170,000 people travel to the US from Canada in June and July of this year, according to the US Department of Transportation. That compares with fewer than 20,000 in June and July 2021. .

Longmire Day’s in-person return was also a boost to local tourism.

Jennifer McCormick, executive director of the Longmire Foundation, previously told the Bulletin that around 2,000 people traveled to Buffalo to enjoy the annual celebration of Longmire’s book and television series, the first time since 2019 that the event was not it was virtual.

Business owners said they appreciated the extra business.

“Any time you have an event like that, it makes a difference,” Stewart said. “I’m thankful for the Longmire crowd that’s coming.”

Leave a Comment