July 2018 will mark three years since I was named executive director of Sheridan Travel & Tourism. I believe we’ve made great strides as an organization in the way we promote, market and advertise our community.
We created a three-year plan that emphasized digital advertising to stretch our marketing dollars; we co-op with numerous community partners on everything from billboards to networking conferences; we’ve helped bring numerous new events and programs to light; and we’ve hosted more national travel writers and journalists since 2015 than we had done in the last 15 years (combined), all with the express intent of telling stories of Sheridan’s icons, outlaws and modern mavericks.
In total, we now welcome roughly 375,000 overnight visitors to Sheridan County who combine to spend more than $100 million on travel and tourism activities. Occupancy rates have been climbing over the past year, which means revenues are increasing for our local businesses. Tourism is now Wyoming’s second largest industry, and the largest employer in the state, with unlimited potential for growth here in Sheridan.
Things are moving well, but we can always do more, and that’s why I’d like to engage the community as a whole as we look toward updating our strategic plan near the end of 2018. I’d ask each of you to head into the spring and summer travel season with an eye on what works for the community, what could be improved and what’s not clicking. Allow me to pose a few questions to get the ball rolling.
How do we better leverage the attractions that make Sheridan unique? There’s the obvious — western and Indian history, rodeo, ranching and the outdoors. And then there’s the not so obvious — polo, arts and entertainment, downtown as a destination and so much more.
What sort of critical infrastructure are we lacking? Do we need better bike and walking path connections? Better signage on the mountains? Could we support a large convention center?
How does our branding, at a regional and national level, resonate with the community?
We’re in the midst of launching a new campaign centered on Sheridan’s premiere storytellers — folks who embody what it means to live and breathe Wyoming’s rich western lifestyle. Who are some of the folks we should have on our radar for 2019 programming, and beyond?
I’d like the community to think about all these different elements as we come upon our busy season so they’re fresh in our minds as we head into the fall. Come October, I plan to kickstart a number of community visioning sessions and hold a number of public meetings to look at how we can best plan for the future as an industry. I want insight from hoteliers, restauranteurs, local business owners, event promoters, frequent travelers and the public at large. This will allow my team to crowdsource our community’s collective energy, distill down the best and most innovative ideas and move forward with a strategic plan to grow travel and tourism here in the finest place to live and work in Wyoming.
Shawn Parker is the executive director of Sheridan Travel & Tourism.