No airport, no problem. Jackson business owners not worried about airport closure

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

You would think that the closure of the only airport in a region would cause concern for a major American tourist destination.

This is not the case in Jackson.

Jackson Hole airport closed for repairs on April 11 and will not reopen until June 27. Although the temporary air traffic shutdown is a big deal, business owners are taking it seriously.

Anna Olson, director of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, said April was the slowest month of the year for tourism in Jackson, so the closure was on schedule.

And although visitor interest generally increases in May, it is still a shoulder season.

June is a different story, Olson said. But most tourists who visit the Jackson area in the summer come by car, not by plane.

“We are, by far, a dynamic market in the summer,” Olson said. “Ninety percent of visitors arrive by vehicle rather than by plane in the summer.

She added that there appears to be a lag in hotel bookings for the month of June, but that’s not a concern due to how Jackson hotels monitor their inventory of available rooms.

If the lag persists — something Olson doesn’t expect — hotels can lower rates, she said, which will likely lead to higher occupancy.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated system,” she says. “We know the visitor demand is there and although the early booking pattern is slower than last year, there is a general consensus that people will be here.”

The shoulder season covers less time in Jackson than before, Olson said. While April, May, October and November were once considered shoulder seasons, there has recently been an increase in visitation in the second half of May and first half of October.

Now the shoulder season covers six weeks in the spring and six weeks in the fall, she said.

“The Great American Walk”

Jason Williams, a Jackson businessman who owned a guide service for 15 years and now owns an art gallery, said COVID was responsible for a shift in traveler thinking. It’s more of a driving culture now, he says

“People’s mentality has shifted to the great American road trip,” Williams said. “And there’s still a lot of momentum there with people doing these long drives or RVs”

He, like Olson, believes the airport closure was timed well and he thanked the Jackson Hole Airport Authority director for the timing.

“Airport management, under Jim Elwood, is the reason for that,” Williams said. “He was extremely involved in our community and really looked closely at how to mitigate the impacts.”

“The timing of the project was carefully chosen to have the least impact,” he said.

Williams said her art gallery, Gallery Wild, has had a strong April so far. It’s harder, he says, to predict the future with the art gallery business than with his former guide service.

“I had a better indication of future bookings with the safari company,” he said. “But everything indicates that we are on the right track to have a good season.”

Drive versus fly

Olson warned that any prediction for the season based solely on hotel bookings carries a degree of peril. Indeed, air travelers make their reservations much further in advance than drivers.

“Chauffeurs can make their reservations for a week or two, while those traveling by plane usually lock themselves in for 60 to 90 days,” she said.

Olson said hotel bookings for the month of May were down about 11%.

Those wishing to travel by air have other airport options, although it will take some time to drive from the nearest alternative airports.

Starting May 5, Cody Airport will be open and with good traffic can be 2.5 hours away.

Idaho Falls Regional Airport is about a two-hour drive from Jackson.

The largest airport near Jackson is Salt Lake City International, which is a 4.5 hour drive away.

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