Based on Yosemite National Park’s visitor count, 2016 could be one for the history books, with more than 5.2 million park visitors easily toppling the 2015 record of 4.1 million.
“2016 marked the Centennial of the National Park Service, and the busiest year ever for the park,” YNP Public Affairs Officer Scott Gediman said. “It’s wonderful that so many people, from the U.S., and across the world, came to see the crown jewel of the National Park system.”
Gediman went on to explain that about 575,399 vehicles passed through the South Gate entrance last year. Because the park estimates 2.9 visitors per vehicle, that totals approximately 1.9 million passing through the Highway 41 corridor, and heavier traffic typically makes for financial gain (during 2015, visitors spent nearly $450 million in gateway communities within 60 miles of the park).
So, with the park hitting a record-breaking number of visitors 2016, it comes as no surprise that corridor communities, like Oakhurst, shared in the good fortune, equating to good bottom lines for many Mountain Area businesses.
“We had a record year in 2016, and made more money than ever before in the history of the hotel, which is almost 25 years,” Comfort Inn General Manager Jerry Rankin said. “Our 2016 figure was up 20% in gross revenue, which isn’t even close to our previous record.”
Rankin explained this was due to two factors, the loggers who have come to the area because of the massive tree die-off, and the visitation to Yosemite experiencing a “monster increase” of more than a million people.
“When you’ve got that kind of increase,” Rankin continued, “there’s a whole new pool of revenue and everyone in town should be making good money, including the restaurants, the markets, and the hotels ... and we all should have smiles on our faces.”
January 2017 has started off strong for Comfort Inn, which is up 20% in gross revenue over last January, and 76% over the first month of 2015.
Just across Highway 41, Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn also saw a stellar year.
“I hope we have another year like last year,” Bill Putnam, general manager for Best Western said. “We had an outstanding year, with the loggers factoring into the equation the later part of 2016. I get asked how we did every year, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but ... we run a pretty decent show here, and the staff works hard at making sure our guests are well taken care of, and that definitely pays off.”
In her 30 years in the tourism business, Visit Yosemite / Madera County CEO Rhonda Salisbury said she’s never seen bookings anywhere near what they were last year.
“Hotel occupancy was at an all-time high,” Salisbury said. “And if hotels are full, then restaurants and shops obviously get more business. I’ve heard from many local business that 2016 was a great year for them.”
While Bass Lake businesses fared much better in 2016 than in 2015, the numbers were not record-setting, according to The Forks owner, Leslie Cox.
“It will take a few years to build back to where we were pre-drought and pre-dam project, but we are confident we will be back,” Cox said. “PG&E and the Forest Service have been working very hard (between rain storms) to clear and clean up the dead trees and get the campgrounds back in full swing, but it’s a big job. So, I’m anticipating 2017 to be better than 2016 and look forward to a busy, safe and fun summer season ahead.”
Other YNP stats via South Entrance
☆ Visitors by bus: 93,430 in 2016 compared to 91,203 in 2015, an increase of 2.4%
☆ Total recreational visitors: 1,518,029 compared to 1,321,296, an increase of 14.9%
☆ Total non-recreational visitors: 80,556 compared to 69,588, an increase of 15.8%
☆ Number of buses: 3,602 compared to 3,298, an increase of 9.2%