- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming should see a strong tourist season this year, but possible budget cuts could throttle a growing state tourist industry in coming years, Diane Shober, executive director of the state Tourism Office, said.

Low fuel prices, the national parks centennial, an effective marketing campaign and interest shown by people inquiring about Wyoming trips indicate another flood of visitors to Wyoming this season, Shober said.

While Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks remain the big draws to Wyoming, Shober said she sees greater interest in smaller attractions across the state.

“Greybull, to Buffalo, to other places, they’re experiencing really strong reservations in the leisure market,” she said.

Last year, Wyoming attracted a record 10.5 million tourists and tourism contributed nearly $3.4 billion to the state economy. The tourism industry has grown into the second-largest contributor of tax revenue to the state.

However, Wyoming’s main source of tax revenue, the minerals extraction industry, is going through a downturn that is forcing deep cuts in state spending.

Gov. Matt Mead has asked each state agency to submit budget cuts of about 8 percent over the next two-year budget period.

Shober said the 8 percent cut represents about $1 million a year from her office’s nearly $14 million annual budget.

Shober said her office would likely have to reduce its advertising efforts. Her agency spends about $6 million a year on media advertising Wyoming around the nation. Research shows that for every $1 Wyoming invests in advertising, the state gets $202 in return from tourist spending.

Cutting back on marketing and advertising could result in fewer potential visitors in the future because Wyoming may lose potential tourists to other states that are still advertising their attractions, she said.

“Not having as broad a footprint, it erodes your brand in the minds of the consumers,” Shober said.

The governor is reviewing the 8 percent cuts proposed by state agencies, according to Seth Waggener, a spokesman for Mead.

“This 8 percent number is defined as a starting point and no final decisions have been made,” Waggener said.

Mead has said that some agencies may be cut by more than 8 percent and some less.

Shober noted that Mead has been a strong advocate for Wyoming tourism.

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