For a city that's been around for 120 years in region that's been around for millennia, Casper appears to have an image problem for the millions who hit the road each year to see America.

"Casper, quite frankly, is still one of the undiscovered beautiful places in Wyoming," Mayor Daniel Sandoval said Monday.

"It's surrounded by a 150-mile time barrier," Sandoval said. "So it is still quite in the hinterland, but it is still extremely important."

So tourism will play an increasing role in Wyoming's and Casper's economic health as the energy industry falters, he said during a news conference at Adbay during which he proclaimed Thursday as "WyoCity Travel and Tourism Day," coinciding with National Tourism Week.

Yellowstone National Park was created in part by the railroads for the white settlement of the West, but Casper was often a stop along the way, Sandoval said.

It still is.

"The 'hurry' function is what we're really trying to quell, because we'd like them to stay," Sandoval said. "We'd really like to get them to see the sights and enjoy Casper as a destination."

Tourism, with a lot of promotion, will help stabilize the boom-and-bust energy commodities-driven state and local economies, he said.

Wyoming's economy historically has been counter-cyclical to most of the rest of the nation. Cheap energy isn't good for our economy when it results in layoffs, but it's good elsewhere for growing businesses.

Casper and Wyoming need to find ways to exploit that for tourism, the state's second largest industry, Sandoval said.

"It's going to be one of our main drivers," he said.

Last year, tourism drove a lot, the executive director of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

In 2015, it bolstered Natrona County's economy by $296 million, pumped $15.3 million in state and local taxes, and supported 2,710 jobs , Brook Kreder said.

While the economy slowed last year, lodging tax collections totaled $1.8 million, up from $1.5 million in 2014. That increase was a result of Natrona County voters in 2014 approving the increase of the 3 percent lodging tax to 4 percent.

The CACVB also supported community events with $201,459 from those revenues, Kreder said.

The bureau worked with the television show "Flyrod Chronicles," which filmed two episodes in central Wyoming, had a special premier screening of Disney/Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur," and launched its promotion of the BikeCasper website, she said.

The CACVB continues to prepare for EclipseFest in August 2017, when Casper will experience the total eclipse of the sun. The event is expected to draw between 10,000 and 20,000 visitors, with another 10,000 arriving for the Aug. 21 event itself, Kreder said.

The CACVB will hire someone to coordinate the nearly week-long event, and it now has narrowed its list to five candidates, she said.

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