Montana Sees Boost in Tourism Numbers, Dollars Spent

By Beacon Staff

More than 10.5 million out-of-state travelers visited Montana last year, a 1.6 percent increase over 2010, according to the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.

The amount of money generated from tourism was also higher. Nonresident travelers spent $2.77 billion in 2011, a 10 percent hike from 2010.

Tourism is one of the state’s leading industries and economic drivers. Since 2001, visitation numbers have risen from 9.5 million and reached a record-high in 2007 with 10.7 million. Tourism took a dive in 2008 and fell to 10 million visitors. Since then the industry has been rebounding, leading to an economic boost across the state.

Nonresident spending directly supports $2.2 billion of economic activity, more than 28,000 jobs and more than $700 million in labor income, according to Kara Grau, the institute’s assistant director of economic analysis.

“When you add in the ripple effects of that spending – purchases made by travel-related businesses and their employees – the total contribution of spending by nonresident travelers in Montana is $3.3 billion of economic activity, nearly 39,000 jobs and $1.05 billion in labor income,” Grau said.

Grau said traveler spending supports jobs and incomes of everything from hotel and restaurant workers, to outfitters and guides, to retail stores and hospital staff.

Gasoline made up the majority of last year’s tourist spending – 34 percent – followed by retail sales at 20 percent, or more than $542 million. Restaurants and bars were next at 19 percent, or roughly $533 million. The peak tourist season was between July and September, with 4.89 million visitors. Between April and June, 2.69 million visitors came to Montana. The period between January and March was the slowest stretch, with 1.23 million out-of-state visitors.

“Nonresident travel is a vital part of Montana’s economy,” she said.