Teton County shifts approach to tourism

The Jackson Hole community is moving toward educating visitors — rather than only marketing to them.
The five-year plan includes initiatives to provide for workers, such as building tiny homes and advocating for immigration reform. (Courtesy of VisitJacksonHole)

The Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board has created a new roadmap for managing tourism — an industry that accounts for more than 50% of the local economy. 

The board recently approved a sustainable destination management plan after months of community feedback. 

Board chair Erik Dombroski said the community is moving from marketing to visitors — to managing them.

“It’s no longer about — an old term that we don’t like to use anymore — ‘heads in beds,’” Dombroski said. “It’s about attracting the right guests that are going to be conscious of their surroundings and lessen their impact.”

A new roadmap

According to Dombroski, Teton County is ahead of the trend. Other communities, such as Aspen and Tahoe, already have these types of plans, but it’s a first for Wyoming.

Dombroski said the proposal was well-received at a recent Cheyenne hospitality conference, and other Wyoming communities may follow Teton County’s lead of balancing the needs of the community while still creating high-quality experiences for visitors.

The Teton County board will now create a destination stewardship council with local elected officials, as well as other community stakeholders, such as representatives from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and Grand Teton National Park.

Interim executive director Crista Valentino said this is to help make sure momentum continues.

“None of these one entities can do it all,” Valentino said. “We’re really excited to be leading that effort to get everybody in a room … to try to figure out how we continue to manage the inflow of visitors and to do it in a way that preserves quality of life for our community.”

Stakeholders

The five-year plan includes initiatives to provide for workers, such as building tiny homes and advocating for immigration reform.

Stakeholders throughout the county are needed to define specific priorities and actually implement the framework, which could be the most complicated part, Valentino said.

The board presented the final plan Monday to the Teton County Board of Commissioners and the Jackson Town Council. Elected officials asked general questions, rather than taking steps to adopt the plan yet.

Jackson Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen said he supports the plan but thinks some community members may need a little convincing.

“It’s a way that I feel is better and much more comprehensive and much more holistic,” Jorgensen said. “I think that there are some [residents] though that will look at that as a change and may have some concerns about that.”

The council and board of commissioners will consider officially adopting the plan at future meetings.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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