CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The parking offered a hint: a fleet of super-sized pickup trucks jammed the available spaces of the Motel 6 on Wilkins Circle.
Inside, a receptionist confirmed the suspicion. No vacancy tonight. It was the same story down the hill at the Hampton Inn and Suites. All booked. The Hilton Garden Inn, the Best Western Ramkota, the Holiday Inn Express and the Parkway Plaza? Nothing.
All the rooms in town are booked, one receptionist said.
It was a Tuesday, around 10 p.m.
Casper’s hotels are flying high, carried, in part, by a rising economy which has seen streams of travelers return to the Cowboy State on vacation following the economic downturn of recent years.
Nearly 87 percent of the city’s 53,000 hotel rooms were booked in July and August, according to the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association.
But many of the rooms booked on this night were not occupied by travelers on their way to Yellowstone National Park. They were oilfield workers.
Area hotels estimate oilfield workers typically account for around 45 percent of their guests, said Aaron McCreight, CEO of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“No wants to say the b-word because no one wants to jinx it,” McCreight said.
“Boom,” he explained. “But that’s what it is in Wyoming. It’s oil and gas. That’s what drives the state.”
Economic indicators suggest Wyoming’s oil development is increasingly moving from slow boil into something that resembles a boom, even if it remains a far cry from activity in places like North Dakota and Texas.
A report released last week by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce found Casper’s economy grew by 7.1 percent in 2013, the 11th greatest leap in the country last year.
Drilling is up. The 57 rigs recorded during the week of Sept. 12 was seven more than what the state had the same time last year, according to the oil services firm Baker Hughes.
And the 18,000 oil and gas jobs reported in June were 900 more than the same month last year, state data shows.
Casper’s hotel industry isn’t the only one benefiting. Statewide hotel occupancy rates are also up.
Gillette, which serves the increasingly active Powder River Basin, saw its occupancy rate through the first eight months of the year increase to 72 percent, up from 53 percent over the same period last year. Some 12,000, or 83 percent, of the city’s almost 15,000 rooms were booked in August.
Cheyenne posted a 73 percent occupancy rate through the first eight months of the year, compared to 72 percent last year.
So far in 2014, 75 percent of the rooms in Casper have been booked, up from 70 percent last year.
The high occupancy rates are part of the reason two new hotels are being built in the city today.
Candlewood Suites will break ground on a new 81 room hotel Monday on the east side of Casper. The hotel and associated Denny’s restaurant have an estimated price tag of $10.4 million.
Best Western has a hotel planned for Hat Six Road.
There is some apprehension that the good times won’t last, McCreight said. Several new hotels opened in Casper in 2008, only to watch the economy enter a recession.
But several years of high occupancy have developers betting the city’s growth will continue.
“We’ve weathered the storm, we’ve gotten out of it, and gotten back to pre-recession numbers,” McCreight said.
The high occupancy rates are not from oilfield workers alone, he noted. An improving economy has been a boon for the state’s tourism industry.
Oilfield workers nonetheless make up a significant part of the city’s hotel guests. They differ from other guests in that they often stay longer. Some stay for a week, Sunday through Thursday. Some stay for a month. Others stay for months on end.
One oilfield worker told a Star-Tribune photographer he had been staying at the Parkway Plaza for five months, and in the same room for three.
“It’s hard to get an apartment because we don’t know if we’re going to be here for a year or a month or a week or two days,” Tino Gonzalez of Bakersfield, Calif. said. “Being away from family for so long, it’s nice to be able to call someplace home, and this is where we call our home.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com
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