Old Faithful Man Burned

Tourists photograph Old Faithful erupting on schedule in late afternoon in Yellowstone National Park in 2011. Whether or not novel coronavirus itself makes its way to Wyoming, experts say businesses across the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem will feel the effects of a lack of Chinese visitors this summer.

POWELL — Whether or not the new coronavirus itself makes its way to Wyoming, experts say businesses across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will feel the effects of a lack of Chinese visitors this summer.

The Chinese government has imposed mandatory quarantines in parts of that country — where the infectious virus formally known as COVID-19 originated — and the U.S. government has greatly restricted travelers from China to limit its spread.

Chinese tour groups are 100% suspended right now, said Brian Riley, a Wyoming tourism professional who has been marketing Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park tours to Chinese visitors for the past several years.

“Most of China is like a ghost town right now,” Riley said. “I can’t see [the tourism industry] recovering before summer.”

According to Yellowstone’s most recent Visitor Use Survey, about a quarter of all foreign visitors coming to the park are from China. Riley, owner of Old Hands Holdings in Jackson, said between 350,000 and 400,000 Chinese visitors travel to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each year.

But that number will sink in 2020.

“With 99% of cases in China, this

remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has also said the disease will “lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy.”

In terms of Chinese travel to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the early season “will be a bust — virtually nonexistent,” Riley said. In May, nearly 30% of all visitors to Yellowstone identified themselves as Asian, according to the Visitor Use Survey.

As for Yellowstone area tourism, the hardest-hit gateway community will be West Yellowstone, Montana. Almost half of all visitors entering Yellowstone come through the West Entrance, and businesses in West Yellowstone have invested heavily in advertising to the Chinese market.

Riley stressed that the Chinese tourist market is different than most. Tourists from the country primarily do business with companies that reach out to them and that have gained trust through the years; they rarely stray from those businesses, Riley said.

Businesses that have invested in advertising to the Asian population — including tour bus companies, hotels and gift shops, especially those traveling to and located inside the park — will be impacted the most in the coming season, Riley said.

“It will be devastating for some vendors, both inside and outside the park,” he said. “It will affect the tax base as well.”

Typically, “one-off” tourists from overseas have a greater impact than regional visitors. For example, those driving to northwest Wyoming from inside the U.S. “can bring their own sandwiches and drinks” and are less likely to spend large amounts of cash at gift stores, Riley said.

The tourism industry in the Cody area will feel economic losses, but not to the same extent, said Claudia Wade, executive director of the Park County Travel Council. “We haven’t put a lot of eggs in that basket,” she said.

Wade said the Park County Travel Council hasn’t made concerted efforts to target Asian visitors, but “it will affect many companies in the county.” For instance, she said, the Blair Hotels group — which owns the Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn and Buffalo Bill Village in Cody — has advertised heavily to the Chinese market and will likely see more room availability this coming summer.

Officials at Yellowstone have discussed the possibility of lower visitation rates, but have no plans to reduce staff or to change the way visitors are received.

“All visitors will be welcomed in the same way,” said Linda Veress, a spokesperson for the park.

(7) comments

Deborah Lashley

Unfortunately when we were in Yellowstone, I found what everyone is saying to be true. They come in large numbers, don't try to move to give you room to pass, and don't respect the park rules. Again certainly not wishing any sickness on anyone but just validating what others have said here.

Seth Ames

As a guide, the rudest tourists in Yellowstone have always been the blacks. (Not really) just highlighting how people get away with being racist against Asians.

Maurene Gustafson

That's good!

Louise Cunningham

I've never seen ruder tourists than those bus loads from China

Stopping and blocking narrow boardwalks for selfies and literally keeping 100 s of other visitors hostage while this happens. Very glad they might be delayed..

Don't wish sickness on anyone..... THEIR tour operators need to give those bus loads etiquette lessons....

Marion Dickinson

On the other hand American visitors will be able to access Yellowstone much easier. Yellowstone is supposed to be about the wildlife and scenery, neither of which do well with over crowding.

Cynthia Withrow

We might consider going again in April and May. We canceled our plans because we where not sure if the Asian visitors would be allowed in the country. I don't want to sound racist because we are not, but my husband has had two lung surgeries from collapsed lungs and we both got sick last year because they would shove you out of the way for their photos and cough directly in your face and throw their cigarette butts in your door way. So we just didn't want to take a chance with this new virus being around lots of tourists from the areas where the virus is.

Mark Lagrange

Agreed. While nobody cheers a virus and the health related consequences ... this is a win for the American people. It sounds like a great time to go visit the park. Yellowstone is NOT about huge tour buses and selfies. Here's a window in time to go see the amazing landscapes and wildlife. .... like turning back the hands of time to the 60s, 70s. or 80s!

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