The tourism industry pumped $295 million into Natrona County last year, the director of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said Tuesday.

That economic impact came from the 852,000 people who visited here in 2018, and that affects employment, retail stores and restaurants, sales taxes, lodging taxes, and the less-than-quantifiable effects that create a community, Brook Kaufman told the Casper City Council during a work session.

“It’s new money in the economy,” Kaufman said.

The $295 million figure comes from state research on tourism, and is then broken down by county, she said.

And the 852,000 figure was down about 20,000 from 2017, the year of the total eclipse of the sun that drew visitors who came to Casper for the total eclipse of the sun, Kaufman added.

Leisure visitors spend about two nights in local lodging, and each group of visitors — whether one person or a family — spends an average of $716 in the county, she said.

About 20% of those visitors are on their way to Yellowstone National Park, but many come to the Casper area for leisure, relaxation, outdoor sports, and visiting friends and family, Kaufman said. “We sell Casper as a destination.”

The Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau markets the area globally, she said. Last year, the bureau reallocated $100,000 of its budget to an even wider market including the Japan edition of Newsweek, American Angler and The Drake magazine and those ads were seen by 50 million people.

The return was a 10-1 return on the investment, Kaufman said.

The CACVB is funded by Natrona County’s 4% lodging tax, which was approved by 77% of the voters again in 2018. The lodging tax can be used only for tourism promotion, she said.

In return, tourism generates about $14 million in sales taxes in the county. Without that economic impact, each of the 32,000 households in the county would have to pay $447 to make up the difference, Kaufman said.

Over time, tourism has employed about 2,600 people in the county, which is a consistent part of an economy that is subject to a boom-and-bust energy industry, she said.

However, Kaufman said the CACVB wants to work to enhance activities and amenities on the slow days of Sundays and Mondays, expand broadband width, and develop a sustainable transportation system for visitors similar to the successful trolley program in Cheyenne.

Mayor Charlie Powell brought up a sore subject with some local residents — the city subsidies all its amenities — Hogadon Ski Area, the Events Center, etc. — with the exception of the Municipal Golf Course.

The countering argument is that those amenities create a larger economic impact, but there isn’t as much quantifying data.

Kaufman responded that some information is known, such as that 30% of those who move through the turnstiles at the Casper Events Center came from outside Natrona County.

Council member Mike Huber asked an even more difficult question: What would be the economic impact if Hogadon, the Casper Events Center and other amenities just went away?

How much would be lost if area residents, instead of having Hogadon for skiing or the Events Center for concerts, would leave for skiing or concerts in other cities or states, Huber said.

Kaufman responded that she didn’t know, but she would look into that.