The number of visitors at National Park Service properties continues to grow and the financial benefit to gateway communities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem continues to increase, according to …
The number of visitors at National Park Service properties continues to grow and the financial benefit to gateway communities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem continues to increase, according to the service’s newly released 2022 annual report.
Growth slowed locally, due to the historic June flood closing Yellowstone National Park for a week and two Montana gates for up to 18 weeks, but over the past decade the trend continues to be encouraging.
According to the report, NPS property visitor spending has increased by more than $9 billion in the past decade. In Wyoming, more than 6.1 million visits were recorded between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks last year.
The report shows that of the 3.3 million visits to Yellowstone last year, visitors spent $452 million on items such as gas, camping, groceries, hotel, recreation, restaurants, retail and transportation in gateway communities near the park. That spending supported 6,234 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $600 million.
But the numbers were down dramatically from 2021 due to the flood. Two years ago Yellowstone visitor spending accounted for 8,740 jobs, more than 2,500 more than last year’s report. There were a record 4.86 million visits in 2021.
“Visitation [in Yellowstone] went up by over 1 million visitors between 2020 and 2021,” said park spokesperson Linda Veress, explaining that 2020 was low due to the pandemic.
But then visitation decreased by over 1 million visitors between 2021 and 2022 due to the flood, she said. Immediately after the flood, national media reported the park as totally devastated, causing tens of thousands of visitors to cancel their trips.
During the same period the report shows that of the 2.8 million visits to Grand Teton National Park in 2022, those flocking to the region spent $597 million. This spending supported 7,610 jobs, $267 million in labor income, $438 million in value added and $757 million in economic output in local communities. Across Wyoming, national park property visitors spent $870 million, accounted for 11,500 jobs worth $380 million in labor income and totaling $1.1 billion in total economic output. Tourism is the state’s second largest industry.
Hotels and restaurants accounted for the two largest spending categories by Yellowstone visitors, with hotels bringing in 32.7% of all spending in Yellowstone gateway communities and restaurants accounting for 17.1%. Rounding out the top five in spending were gas (12%), recreational industries (10.7%) and retail sales (9.3%).
Nationally in 2022, 312 million park visitors spent an estimated $23.9 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands across the country. These expenditures supported a total of 378,000 jobs, $17.5 billion in labor income, $29 billion in value added, and $50.3 billion in economic output (the total value of goods and services produced) in the national economy.
Showing growth over the past decade, in 2012 park visitors spent $14.7 billion, the total number of jobs were 243,000, value added was $15.8 billion and the economic output was estimated at $26.8 billion.
“Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. With the help of volunteers and partners, we safeguard these special places and share their stories with more than 300 million visitors every year. The impact of tourism to national parks is undeniable: bringing jobs and revenue to communities in every state in the country and making national parks an essential driver to the national economy,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams.
Sales, income and jobs resulting from visitor purchases represent the direct effects of visitor spending. Additional jobs and economic activity are supported when businesses purchase supplies and services from other local businesses thus creating indirect effects of visitor spending. And, employees use their income to purchase goods and services in the local economy, generating further induced effects of visitor spending.
The lodging sector had the highest direct effects, with $9 billion in economic output nationally. The restaurants sector had the second greatest effects, with $4.6 billion in economic output nationally.
Yellowstone was forced to recover after the flood and closed the park June 13-21. Three of the park’s five entrances opened June 22. The Northeast Entrance opened Oct. 15 and the North Entrance opened Oct. 30.
Despite the pandemic and the flood, labor in Yellowstone gateway communities continues to show growth over the past decade. Over 600 jobs have been gained from a decade ago.
Three key pieces of information are required to estimate the economic effects of visitation, according to the National Park Service; the number of visitors who visit each park, visitor spending patterns in local gateway regions, and regional economic multipliers that describe the economic effects of visitor spending in local economies. Visitation and spending data are derived from a variety of efforts by the National Park Service Social Science Program. Regional economic multipliers are derived from the IMPLAN software and data system. The Visitor Spending Effects model (VSE model) was developed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to combine these source data to estimate the economic contributions of National Park Service visitor spending.
While the National Park Service comprises of 63 national parks, NPS manages 423 national park properties, including historic sites, monuments, national seashores, and national recreation areas, like Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near Lovell.
Other national park properties in Wyoming brought in millions in visitor spending, including Bighorn Canyon NRA ($10.8 million), Devil’s Tower ($34.9 million), Ft. Laramie ($1.2 million) and Fossil Butte ($1 million).
The top three most popular national parks are Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Zion National Park in Utah and Yellowstone National Park.