When you ask people where they’re going on vacation, Wyoming destinations include Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, and sometimes even a stopover at Devils Tower National Monument on the way to or from Mount Rushmore.  But, unless they have family here, Gillette and the rest of Campbell County aren’t very popular in the destination vacation market.

Hearing people say Campbell County is not a destination is something Gillette native Terry Sjolin takes offense to.

“That’s not true,” said Sjolin.  “We are a destination.  We’re just an atypical destination.”

Sjolin is the Destination Marketing Organization Sales Manager for the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

With three full-time employees, Executive Director Mary Silvernell said the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau spends 90 percent of their funds to promote Campbell County and everything our community has to offer.  The remaining 10 percent of the budget is being put aside to relocate and build a new visitor’s center.

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So, where you may ask, does the funding for the CVB come from?  The simple answer is the lodging tax.

In Campbell County, a two percent lodging tax is levied on overnight stays in hotels and campgrounds.  Like the optional one percent tax, the lodging tax is on the ballot every four years.

“Just because there has been so much discussion about taxes in general, people are hyper-sensitive and they’re not thinking about what the tax does and who pays it,” said Silvernell.  “It’s not 100 percent paid for by out of town people, but a big majority is.”

Silvernell explained that prior to 2006 the lodging tax was only levied within city limits. In 2006, the lodging tax was voted down, but was approved by voters again in 2008 and now levies a two percent lodging tax countywide.

The Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau is one leg of a three-legged stool that promotes tourism in our community. The other two legs are the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which does their part at the state level. and local businesses with their own advertising budgets. The three legs all share a common goal of bringing people into our community to enjoy what we have to offer.

In April, the Wyoming Office of Tourism released a report from Dean Runyan Associates that breaks down the impacts of tourism on each county in Wyoming.  Campbell County generated nearly $1.8 million in travel spending in 2017.  Statewide, travel spending brought in $3.6 billion. 

In Campbell County alone, the tourism industry accounted for 1,030 jobs last year and brought in $1.6 million in local tax receipts and $4.2 million in state taxes for total tax revenues of $5.8 million.  In the last decade, 2014 showed the highest revenues at $7.2 million in Campbell County.  Since that time, revenues have continued to decline, but still show a 5.7 percent increase from 2007 to 2017. 

“So, it’s not little numbers,” said Silvernell speaking about the tourism industry’s monetary impact.

The Runyan report focuses on destination-specific impacts including national and international travelers and also in-state travelers whose destinations are within Wyoming. The report does not include Wyoming residents whose destinations are out of state.

Last summer’s solar eclipse was a driving force for tourism in Campbell County, even though not directly in the outlined path.  According to the Runyan report, statewide travel spending focused solely on viewing the eclipse was around $63.5 million.      

On its busiest day last summer, around 500 people visited the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, mostly to pick up a pair of eclipse glasses.  However, Silvernell said a lot of those visitors were locals who remarked about how unchanged the CVB has remained over the thirty years it’s been located in the parking lot of Flying J.

Silvernell said although Flying J has been a great partner over the years, the CVB is due for an upgrade.

If you build it, they will come.   

A study commissioned several years ago determined that the best location for the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau would be, “with the flow of traffic, westbound on I-90, with a right hand exit, on the right,” said Silvernell.

As a result, the Campbell County Commissioners contributed a 2.7 acre parcel of land located east of WYDOT off Garner Lake Road.

“It is a fact that when people pull off and stop, they stay and at least eat and spend money,” said Sjolin.  “You can make your Visitors Center an Attraction.  That’s why we want a new building.”

Both Sjolin and Silvernell pointed to nearby examples of such attractions located at the South Dakota Border, in Deadwood, and in Lead.

The CVB is setting aside funds for the project, but is still looking for additional support from the three governing bodies that oversee the Lodging Tax Joint Powers Board.  The seven members of the board represent the City of Gillette, Campbell County, and the Town of Wright.

No solid plan has been approved for a new visitors center. However, the CVB is still doing their best to make Campbell County an atypical destination, exploring sports tourism.

Going on name alone, it sounds like a project anyone in our community would get behind. Sports tourism is simply defined as travel for which the prime motivation is sporting activities, either as active participants or spectators.

“30 percent of vacation travel is sports-related, usually to do with their kids and grandkids,” explained Sjolin of the over $115 billion industry.

The wide range of competitive sports activities and the community’s amazing facilities are just a few of the many reasons the CVB has chosen to delve deeper into attracting these types of events.

“It’s our job to make sure people understand this is a great place to come and live and participate in all the stuff we have going on.”

The leisure travel season, like Wyoming summers, are relatively short, which cuts down on the time period that makes Campbell County an attractive stop.

“We could do so many things in the winter time to bring people in to help offset the leisure travel,” explained Silvernell.

There are around 2,000 hotel rooms in Campbell County, which is unusual for a city our size. The occupancy rates for those hotels dips dramatically as fall sets in.  However, the number of available rooms also makes Gillette an attractive destination for sports tournaments and events.

“There’s a lot of out of the box sports that we can chase that would have a really big impact here,” said Sjolin. 

Some of those non-conventional sporting events include lawn mower racing, nitro circuits, monster trucks, and motorcycle stunts.

Taking the next step forward, the City of Gillette and Campbell County both recently agreed to contribute $10,000 to help fund a sports tourism study that will evaluate the resources our community already has and determine which events would be a good fit. The CVB has already budgeted $18,000 for the study.

Four companies submitted bids to perform the study. After analyzing each proposal, Silvernell narrowed the field to two and presented her findings to the  Lodging Tax Joint Powers Board.

The board chose to hire the Huddle Up Group of Phoenix, AZ, to perform the study. The company got a head start on the project before they were even chosen. Founder and CEO Jon Schmieder visited Campbell County in May and has already toured the facilities that will be included in the study. The price tag on the study is $27,000 and includes a year of additional support after the study.

“We’ve got too many great assets here and great people,” said Silvernell. “It’s our job to make sure people understand this is a great place to come and live and participate in all the stuff we have going on.”

The Campbell County Public Land Board also recently made a contribution to the sports tourism team with  the purchase of enough sport court flooring to cover two-thirds of the Cam-Plex Wyoming Center. 

The Huddle Up Group is also thrilled about the decision to purchase the sport court flooring.

“This will enable us to work with CAM-PLEX to market and sell to many different sports events rights holders, to bring in any number of new events to Campbell County,” said Silvernell. “Adding this asset is another piece of the puzzle in the future success of Campbell County’s sports tourism sales focus.”

A Glowing Review

The Newmar Kountry Klub chose Gillette, more specifically Cam-Plex, as the location for their 2018 International Rally, drawing in around 400 motorhomes the last week in June.

“This is Newmar’s fourth time here,” said Bonnie Krieger. “The facilities, the people, the area, the beauty of it — this was the perfect choice.”

Bonnie and her husband, Bob, are the international directors of Newmar Kountry Klub.

“Cam-Plex is the gold standard we measure every other facility or fairground by,” said Bob Krieger.

Bonnie said in addition to providing all the proper camper sites, the facilities at Cam-Plex also offer ample rooms for seminars and a location to feed around 1,000 people three times a day.

Gillette’s geographic location also allowed these road-wise travelers to visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devils Tower, and the Vore Buffalo Jump. The Kountry Klub also lined up tours for their members at the Durham Buffalo Ranch and Eagle Butte Coal Mine.

Focusing the Lens

As the old saying goes, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. The same adage holds for those of us that have grown up around here or have lived through enough boom and bust cycles to call it home.

“People who grew up here, don’t see anything special,” said Silvernell, who says she loves living in Gillette, event after living in Pittsburgh, PA and Orlando, FL.

“We’d love for everyone in Campbell County to experience what’s here through a visitor’s eyes,” explained Silvernell. “Then be as excited and have the ‘hometown pride’ that is exhibited in so many ways when they talk with folks from out of town, and do so in a positive way.”

The goal is to show off the best of what Campbell County has to offer to visitors, who then come and make an economic impact and that cycle just continues to improve our community.

By: Charity D. Stewart for 82717

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