Friday, March 26, 2010

Shame on Bear World

So Yellowstone Bear World got its exemption from the minimum wage law.

Addendum: No, they haven't, or at least not this legislative season. The bill to make this so was held hostage in committee by a lawmaker throwing a fit over a bill he wanted passed that didn't get a chance. The legislature is now out (as of April 1) so it's not likely this is going to happen. Still to see is if YBW will close this summer as threatened. Can't say I'd miss them. (I guess the local paper screwed up in saying the bill had passed when it actually hadn't. I feel their pain.)

I still fail to see how a business that has lost 40 percent of its revenue over the last two years is going to stay open by cutting the pay of 35 to 40 part-time workers by a maximum of 75 cents per hour is going to keep this business in the black. They already charge $16.95 for an adult to get inside the park, or $75 for a carload of eight or fewer people. Yeah, the exemption is going to save the company several thousand dollars over the course of the season, but you have to wonder, at what cost?

I don't think people have stopped going to the place because their workers earn the minimum wage. If I were Bear World management, I'd be taking a closer look at those ticket prices and seeing if there weren't anything I could do to tweak them to make entry more affordable. If, perchance, it were less expensive to get into the place, they might get more people coming through the gates. Yes, I said might. I have no idea if that idea would work at all. I do know, however, that the ability to pay their employees less isn't going to do a damn thing in getting people to come through the gates.

When we toured the Oregon coast last summer, we ran into quite a few of these kinds of tourist traps -- and they are traps indeed. One place allowed you to descend a wooden stairwell to go to the beach below and gaze at sea lions. It would have cost our family of 5 $110 to do so. We passed. Oh, we did eventually pay to get into the Newport Aquarium, but it was less than half the cost and we got to see a lot more than sea lions. But these tourist trap places ought to figure out that on any given trip, an average family is going to skip nine out of ten of these places and go to the one that really hits their buttons.

Yellowstone Bear World has benefited because they don't have the competition -- there aren't a string of traps from Idaho Falls to Yellowstone, thank heaven. And that ought to frighten YBW more than direct competition, because even without a competitor, tourists and locals are going elsewhere. Like to Yellowstone National Park, without an intermediate stop. More people are traveling to Yellowstone -- they hit record numbers of visitors last year. But obviously a lot fewer people have stopped at Yellowstone Bear World. I think price is one. People are traveling but saying, you know what, we can pay $50 for entry to the park and most likely see the animals we want (last time my family went, we saw bison, elk, deer, a coyote and a bear, or equivalent to the animals at Bear World) without having to pay to get into YBW. So much for their ad campaign saying they've got animals you can't see at Yellowstone anymore, or that YBW is the best part of any Yellowstone trip. It's not. It's an expensive side trip at most.

If YBW prices were lower, stopping there might be more of a temptation for cost-conscious people who are obviously staying away now.

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