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According to data from the Jackson Hole News and Guide Market Report and Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Insights, the summer 2022 visitation was down in lodging occupancy, enplanements, and National Park visitation compared to record-setting, pre-and-post-pandemic levels of 2019 and 2021. To better understand how changes in this summer’s visitation impacted their business owners and the local workforce, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board (JHTTB) launched in September asking about their work situation and quality of life.

See the full Straw Poll Results and community comments here.

The poll was designed to engage Teton County, Wyoming’s workers and/or volunteers. Business owners represented 29% of the 481 respondents, and 26% were managers/operators. Interestingly, 20% were volunteers representing forest and park ambassadors and the destination’s non-profit sector. While the majority of respondents were positive about their economic health (despite airport closures and Yellowstone flooding events), workforce quality-of-life concerns are reflected in the results.

Key Sentiments

Despite a decrease in the total number of summer visitors:

  • over 70% of respondents reported they believed their business fared the same or better financially than in both the record-setting summers of 2019 and 2021;
  • over 70% also reported they personally fared financially the same or better compared to 2019 and 2021.

When asked about the volume of customers at their place of business this summer:

  • 37% chose “just about right;”
  • 30% said fewer;
  • and only 16% said “more.”

When asked how specific events affected them, on the whole, the wide majority indicated that these events impacted them but that they “recovered,” had “no impact,” or had a “positive impact.”

  • only 5% said the Yellowstone floods had a “very negative” effect on their business;
  • 14% said the same of the JH Airport Closure in May and June;
  • 2% said the same of “other weather events.”

When asked to pick the top three reasons respondents thought visitation was down.

  • 67% cited gas prices;
  • 58% the cost of visiting Jackson Hole;
  • and 49% cited inflation;
  • Yellowstone closure and opening of other destinations (nationally and worldwide) tied at 45%;
  • Only 7% cited a “lack of advertising” of the destination.

Primary topics related to respondents’ business or work situation track those identified in the Resident Sentiment Toward Tourism Survey taken in the spring of 2022:

When asked to rate a variety of issues with four choices–no problem, manageable, concerning, or terrible–the issues respondents rated as concerning or terrible included:

  • traffic congestion/commuting (71%);
  • housing (67%);
  • and staffing (59%).

Of note, 35% of respondents reported that their mental health was “concerning” or “terrible,” and 41% cited that their amount of free time for fun/recreation/entertainment was “concerning” or “terrible.”

398 written comments were submitted, both positive and negative. Response to the bonus question, “What’s one word to describe your summer in the Tetons?” spanned the range of “glorious” and “majestic” to “stressful” and “frustrating.” This comment summarizes the complicated puzzle of how this summer’s visitation impacted the local workforce:

“I’ve really enjoyed the quieter summer this year. Promoting [a] higher number of visitors only benefits a handful of businesses. After that, we are dealing with the lack of infrastructure to support more tourism. I work in the service industry, and tourism funds my existence here, but there is a limit to how much I benefit. The insane cost of living here, lack of housing for locals, traffic going in and out of Alpine and over Teton Pass, and the quality of experience within the parks, at restaurants, and hotels are all negatively impacted by having too many tourists that our infrastructure does not support. It’s an equation of diminishing returns.”

The goal of the Sustainable Destination Management Plan (SDMP), funded by the JHTTB, is to balance the needs and expectations of visitors with the priorities of residents, businesses, and the environment. One of the objectives will be to develop metrics to monitor the health of our destination that go beyond economic indicators, and we look forward to the recommendations of the SDMP.

Save the date: November 16-18 – George Washington University and Confluence Sustainability will be in Jackson to present the community with the first draft and all research reports of the SDMP for validation.

Read the full report.