Kaufman discusses importance of tourism with Casper City Council

CASPER, Wyo. — Natrona County Commissioner and Visit Casper CEO Brook Kaufman told the Casper City Council that tourism is an important part of the local economy.

“Sometimes I feel like maybe tourism is overlooked as a potential partner on a project,” she said.

Kaufman said that the relationship between the City of Casper and Visit Casper is good, but said she hopes that relationship can be utilized more strategically.

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Visit Casper is funded by an optional lodging tax. Kaufman said that brought in just under $1.8 million in 2018.

But rules only allow Visit Casper to use that funding for promotion and doesn’t allow them to spend funding on things like infrastructure project.

During the last state legislative session, Kaufman said Visit Capser lobbied to allow “tourism improvement districts” which would allow tourism to find different funding sources.

That legislation did not pass.

About 852,000 people visited Natrona County in 2018, which was down from 2017, largely due to visitors coming to see the eclipse that year, Kaufman told the city council during their Tuesday, Aug. 13 work session.

“2019 has been a tremendous year for our lodging properties,” she said, adding that lodging facilities have been operating at 85-90% of capacity.

28% of visitors to Casper were on their way to Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park. Other reasons people visit are for relaxation, hunting and fishing or to visit family or friends.

Parties of overnight visitors spend an average of $716, she said. Day visitors spend less than half that amount.

She said that on average, visitors stay three days.

“In my opinion tourism impacts everyone,” Kaufman said.

She said that Casper lacks some meeting and convention space. Downtown shopping, public wifi and improvements to public transportation were other things Visit Casper would like to see receive consideration.

Kaufman said that Visit Casper is working to calculate the negative impact that unsightly aspects of I-25 may have on the local economy.

“Cheyenne does a really good job with their trolleys,” Kaufman said. “We want to find a solution as well.”

Getting people to come to Casper to live and work was another issue Kaufman raised.

“We are struggling with workforce,” she said. “How do we sell the destination? If you love where you live, you’re so much more likely to invite people here.”

Visit Casper’s board of directors is known as the Natrona County Travel and Toursim Council. It was established 30 years ago in a Joint Powers Board Agreement between Casper, Mills, Bar Nunn, Evansville, Midwest and Edgerton.

“For the last 30 years, the Council has been solely focused on driving awareness for Casper/Natrona County as a destination,” Kaufman wrote in a memo to the city council.

“Moving forward, our organization will need to leverage infrastructure and development to continue to drive notable lift in the visitor economy.”

Kaufman said that Visit Casper spend $150,000 in 2018 to support local events.