Visitors are starting to pour into Jackson Hole for the summer, but this season could look different from years past.
Tourism could take a dip with summer lodging bookings down 15% compared to last year.
That’s according to May’s snapshot report, said Erik Dombroski, the chair of the local travel and tourism board. He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” this year could mark a return to normal after people flooded the region during the pandemic.
A slight dip in visitors could have its benefits, Dombroski said, like limiting congestion in the community.
“After two really record-breaking years for the destination, at some point … there has to be some sort of adjustment,” Dombroski said. “You can’t have a record-breaking year over and over and forever.”
Changing travel trends
Travelers took to the outdoors during the pandemic. In 2021, Grand Teton National Park had nearly 3.9 million visitors — a record for the park.
Now, Dombrowski said, visitors’ travel patterns may be changing.
“People that have been looking to do an international trip or go to a major city, we’re seeing that demand shift that direction,” he said.
Dombroski said this could mean fewer summer visits for mountain towns, but that Jackson may have a better built-in tourism stream: Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
“I think other mountain destinations will have a more challenging time than we do because they do not have the national parks to attract the visitation,” he said.
This comes during a time when the tourism board is shifting its approach. Rather than just marketing to tourists and getting heads in beds, Dombroski said the group is trying to attract the “right visitors.”
“Reduction in visitation isn’t necessarily our end goal,” he explained, “but it is to ensure that we have the right visitors here, and the ones that are coming are aware of how to behave and how to interact with our community to lessen the impact on our natural resources and our community members.”
Local impacts of tourism
Dombroski highlighted that tourism is essential for the local economy.
If visitation numbers do drop significantly, this could affect local hotels and restaurants, along with town and county budgets — which really heavily on sales tax revenue.
Jackson town council member Jonathan Schechter said he’s worried about potential drops in tax dollars.
“It holds all sorts of potential to affect the town’s budget,” Schechter said, adding that the town may already be overspending as it caters to “champagne tastes” on a “beer budget.”
But Schechter also noted that last year saw drops in visitors, but sales tax dollars went up — since locals stepped in to fill that gap.
He hypothesized that bookings could be down because hoteliers have started charging higher rates with increased demand in recent years.
A representative with the Grand Teton Lodging Company, which operates Jackson Lake Lodge and Colter Bay Village, told KHOL it doesn’t share forward looking projections.
According to Dombroski, with the travel and tourism board, camping reservations are looking stable for the summer, and he said he’s optimistic hotels will get booked up as summer draws closer.