The Iowa Tourism Economic Impact Report was recently released, and it shows that even through the pandemic, tourism has been a major contributor to the state's economy. "The results of this study show the scope of the travel sector in terms of direct visitor spending, as well as the total economic impacts, jobs, and fiscal (tax) impacts in the broader economy." Even with a 29% drop in 2020, tourists' direct contribution to Iowa's economy was $4.6 Billion.
Because international travel was restricted and many people did not feel safe flying, more people chose to road trip closer to home. The pandemic also caused many people to choose more outdoorsy destinations and rural areas where they could easily distance, instead of more crowded cities and larger or indoor tourist attractions. In western Iowa, this has largely been beneficial since most of the communities are rural with abundant parks, trails, wildlife areas, and small towns & businesses.
Tourism is especially impactful along Iowa's Scenic Byways. Loess Hills National Scenic Byway runs through the 7 Loess Hills counties from Plymouth to Fremont. Western Skies Scenic Byway, which crosses the region west-to-east from Harrison to Guthrie counties, is a popular alternate route to Interstate 80 between Omaha and Des Moines. Glacial Trail Scenic Byway is a short loop that runs through Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, and O'Brien counties in northwest Iowa along the Little Sioux River valley. Data for these Byway counties from the tourism report is summarized below.
Note that Harrison County is included on both Loess Hills and Western Skies, as both byways run through the county.
Not all of the economic impacts are directly from Byway travelers only, but the counties are considered part of the Byway Corridors and thus the data include significant overlap. Golden Hills is proud to coordinate these three byways and all that they contribute to the region.