Anna Olson is the first to admit that the past couple of years have been something of a rodeo.
As the person at the helm of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, she’s faced her fair share of challenges since taking over the role in 2017: a pandemic, a worsening housing crisis, and a record-shattering summer for the region’s national parks. It’s certainly been a ride.
Anna, however, has a knack for finding golden nuggets of opportunity, even in the most unexpected and unprecedented of situations.
With an enchanting smile and a charismatic British accent, Anna describes her arrival in Jackson Hole as one led by the heart. Her work in the travel and tourism industry began in London, where she met her husband, Jeff. After visiting Wyoming once, she agreed to make the move in 1996.
“We joke a lot about love and naivete when you’re young,” she chuckles. “But it just felt right.” Anna continues, “I really knew very little about Wyoming … It was a big square state in the middle of a lot of other square states. I think there’s still a lot of truth to that. If you asked the average person in England where Wyoming is, they probably wouldn’t know.”
Anna’s first job in the valley was with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort; a company she stayed with for over two decades. During her final years there, she was a chamber of commerce board member, becoming board chair in 2013.
In 2017, when the opportunity arose, she transitioned to CEO. From the beginning, she knew it would be a spectacular fit.
“To connect to town, to connect to other businesses — I really enjoyed the chamber, especially all the events, from the local Easter egg hunt to the highly impactful Fall Arts Festival and the parades. These events that require the community to work together — it just feels productive and fulfilling, and I could bring my kids and get them involved. I’ve just always loved what the chamber does.”
But as the pandemic rattled the globe, it disrupted the way in which businesses operated in Jackson Hole. “COVID threw us into ‘response mode,’ and it quickly became very apparent how much we could help,” Anna recalls. The chamber sprang into action, organizing peer groups and distributing millions of masks.
As the effects of the virus have evolved, so have Anna and her staff’s efforts. On the heels of a summer that saw a record number of visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and businesses struggling to operate with sufficient staffing, Anna and her team are looking ahead to the future of sustainable tourism.
To that end, the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce will support a process called “Destination Management Planning” in collaboration with the business community. Anna points to specific tools (like moving summertime campsite reservations to an online system) and finding creative solutions to complicated issues. “As we discuss something like a ‘comfortable carrying capacity,’ it’s important to recognize it’s a complex concept,” she notes.
Ultimately, Anna recognizes that the challenges facing Jackson Hole are significant and important, but urges residents not to lose hope.
“As a person who has lived here for a while, who has raised our three children here, I still see a lot of greatness in this area. I believe there is just such a wonderful sense of community and I think getting involved just makes that shine through more and more. It’s the brightest when we’re taking care of each other,” she says. “Don’t give up hope. I think this is an incredibly special place, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”