CODY — Tourism has taken a rather meandering path in Cody this summer.
After a slow early start, signs of recovery started to show in July and into August. Most notably, Yellowstone National Park visitation numbers actually increased over 2019 in both those months.
In August the Park hosted more visitors than any year besides 2017, the year of the Eclipse.
These numbers were consistent at the East Entrance where there was a 12.4% increase in visitors in August.
Overall, Park visitation is still down 18% for the year, but this downward trend has been recovering after being down 27.5% at the end of July and 49% at the end of June.
However, the lodging and sales tax revenues were still down when compared to 2019. The August 2020 lodging tax was $394,956, down 43.3% from August 2019.
Sales and use taxes were similarly down by 17% and 13% for the months of July and August, respectively. Use tax individually was up in both months, but this revenue only made up about 10% of the total sales tax revenue.
Many national parks have instigated quotas on the number of people who can enter their gates, potentially directing tourists to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, two parks that have refrained from limiting attendance. Grand Teton’s attendance was also up for the summer months of 2020.
Parks that instituted quotas and closures like Yosemite, Glacier, Kenai, Rocky Mountain and Zion were all down significantly. Nationally, there was a trend for parks with much fewer or no restrictions like Great Smoky, Mount Rushmore and Joshua Tree being slightly up in their visitation.
So where are the tourists if they’re here, but not spending money in the traditional ways?
Local RV parks and campgrounds may have the answer – busier than any year in recent memory.
“We’ve been fully booked since early June,” said Andy Syring, owner of Parkway RV Campground. “It’s been a good year for sure.”
Syring said after a bleak spring and first week of June, “It’s been a tidal wave ever since.”
Other RV parks have shared similar reports and the Shoshone National Forest said its campgrounds were much busier than normal.
Syring said the opportunity to social distance has made RV travel more appealing than ever this summer. Due to travel restrictions imposed preventing most Americans from reaching European countries, many tourists have gone domestic for their summer vacations.
“It’s absolutely brought people here,” Syring said.
And despite the gloomy lodging tax numbers, some individual hotels and motels have been also seeing an increase in business.
Lois Taylor, manager of the Rodeway Inn, said she has hosted many visitors from the West Coast traveling to escape the smoke of the wildfires ravaging that region. She said her business has picked up after a slow early summer start.
Janee Jessup, general manager of Millstone Brewery, said business has taken a strong uptick as the summer has waned on.
“It’s been great, it absolutely hasn’t slowed down at all,” she said.
Although she said about half their business has come from Yellowstone tourists, locals have been strong supporters as well.
With mild temperatures seeming to hang around a bit longer this autumn and COVID-19 unhinging preexisting norms throughout society, tourism may continue its upward path through the end of September. This would be a continuation of ongoing trends as September tourism has continued operating at summer levels in Cody for the past few years.