Well-known celebrities have been spending vacation time in Jackson Hole for years. Reports of Sandra Bullock floating the Snake or Harrison Ford dining at Rendezvous Bistro barely cause people to bat an eye anymore. Last week, though, Jackson got a hit of Hollywood that has left an impression.
On Thursday, Kanye West hosted an album release party for his new seven-song album, “Ye,” at Diamond Cross Ranch in Buffalo Valley. The event brought 300 to 400 rap artists, models, actors and other friends of the singer to Jackson. On Thursday and Friday #Wyoming was one of the highest trending hashtags on Twitter, including posts where people wondered what, even, is a Wyoming?
Since the party, officials across the state have offered predictions as to what the publicity West has garnered could mean for Jackson Hole and Wyoming in general.
“Having a high-profile celebrity like Kanye talk about Jackson Hole, in relation to an album, will impact our brand awareness,” said Keely Herron, chairwoman of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. “We’ll have to wait and see how that impacts visitation.”
During a review of the Travel and Tourism board’s budget Monday, Mayor Pete Muldoon noted the group, which uses the lodging tax to promote off-season tourism, is not the only entity promoting Jackson Hole.
“It’s plausible to me that Kanye’s party the other night did more than the Travel and Tourism budget will do over the next year,” Muldoon said.
The 2019 budget the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board will spend promoting tourism is roughly $1.6 million. In 30 minutes Thursday, West sold $500,000 worth of his new Wyoming merchandise, the L.A. radio station Power 106 reported.
Muldoon wasn’t the only one who caught wind of a potential marketing campaign. The Wyoming Office of Tourism, based in Cheyenne, took the Kanye effect and ran with it, publishing a blog Monday that lists eight reasons they think Kanye West chose Wyoming to produce and release his album.
“It [Kanye’s party] created a buzz that would be hard to achieve without an artist like Kanye West,” said Tina Troy, media and PR manager for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “We would be remiss if we didn’t pursue that opportunity and do some follow-up with that.”
There’s really no way to know what the lasting impact of West’s release party and subsequent promotion of Jackson Hole will be, said Jonathan Schechter, founder of the Charture Institute and News&Guide columnist. Perhaps a more interesting question to ask would be what attracted him here in the first place, he said.
“The thing that distinguishes Jackson Hole and the Tetons region from basically every other major resort community is the quantity, quality and health of our ecosystem,” Schechter said. “So the question for Kanye would be: ‘Is that something that matters a lot to him? Or did he find other things that attracted him to this place?’ I’m guessing that the health of the ecosystem had a lot to do with it, otherwise why not have the release party in L.A. or Malibu or some other fabulous destination?”
West introduced an abundantly large audience to Wyoming, which is something the tourism board is always looking to do, Troy said. The content coming out of the Cheyenne office is playing off the idea that people keep asking why Kanye would have picked Wyoming as a recording site, but they’re not surprised.
“It’s no surprise that Wyoming’s epic landscapes and laid-back vibe attract creators and artists like Kanye West,” Troy said. “It’s not hard to be inspired in a place like Wyoming, especially with the Teton mountains as your backdrop.”
The Jackson Hole Airport saw traffic from roughly 15 private aircraft directly associated with West’s party, said Dustin Havel, the airport’s assistant director.
Sometimes the airport is connected to highly trafficked events in Jackson and sometimes it’s not, Airport Director Jim Elwood said, but officials are not thinking of West’s party as an indication of future jet traffic.
“We treated it as a few higher-use days, rather than a longterm trend,” Elwood said.
Whether or not the Kanye effect is long-lasting, some businesses got an immediate publicity boost. Big Hole BBQ catered and Roadhouse Brewing poured beers at the party. Poot McFarlin’s new band, ’Lectric Fence, got some exposure at the after-party at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Victor Outdoor Seconds, a secondhand outdoor gear store in Victor, Idaho, also felt the love.
“I didn’t know it was him when he and his buddies came in,” said Jennifer Bandow, owner of the store. “He was talking on the phone about Drake, and I could tell he was a musician.”
West bought approximately 100 items ranging from men’s jackets to bike jerseys and some kids clothes, Bandow said, although she wasn’t sure the purpose of the purchases.
“I don’t know. We asked his assistant who came and picked up the items the next day. I’m not sure she knew either,” Bandow said. “I’m thinking it’s because it’s so cold here compared to what they’re used to.”
Bandow posted a photo on Facebook showing about 13 garbage bags full of clothing, saying the sale was her biggest ever.
“I’m very happy with the business,” she said.
The tourism windfall does bring complications.
The tension between needing many workers to support the tourism industry, and those workers not being able to live in the town where they work, is not unique to Jackson, Schechter said. But few places in the country are experiencing that squeeze as strongly and immediately.
The News&Guide contacted several people connected with hosting the release party and all declined to speak on the record because of non-disclosure agreements.