No Vacancy

By Beacon Staff

Reflecting a rise in statewide tourism, available hotel rooms have become increasingly hard to find during summer.

As a whole, Montana’s hotel occupancy rate – 84 percent – was the best out of all 50 states during July, according to Smith Travel Research (STR), which tracks national and international hotel performance. Montana’s average occupancy rate was also above the national average in June. August figures will be released later this month.

Demand for rooms in the state increased 8 percent in June and almost 5 percent in July compared to 2011, according to STR. The year-to-date occupancy figures are up 3 percent over last year and room revenue is up nearly 10 percent.

The state’s hotel occupancy rates have ranked in the top three for July and August the previous three years. These high marks coincide with the revival of the state’s vital tourism industry, which has been growing every year since 2009.

Nonresident traveler spending increased 6 percent from 2009 to 2010 and jumped another 10 percent in 2011, according to the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. Through the first two quarters of this year there has been another 6 percent spike over last year.

Roughly 10.5 million out-of-state travelers spent $2.8 billion throughout the state last year. Nonresident travelers pay a 3 percent lodging tax in Montana as well as excise taxes on gasoline and alcohol.

“When the tourism industry is successful, that’s a really good thing for Montana’s economy and job market,” said Mary Paoli from Voices of Montana Tourism, a collaboration of 20 statewide organizations formed last year to raise awareness about tourism’s value in Montana.
Tourism, the state’s second-leading industry, felt the pinch of the recession in 2008 and experienced a decrease in travelers and spending. The industry began making strides upward in 2009 and has grown every year since.

“Really what that says to me is that tourism has been a bright spot in the state’s economic recovery,” Paoli said.

The Kalispell Grand Hotel broke last year’s revenue records for July and August. The 40-room downtown hotel is reporting its highest grossing summer ever, according to General Manager Joann Schadewitz.

“It’s just been increasing over the years,” she said. “More and more people are aware that this is a great and wonderful place to be. People who come to visit us are constantly mentioning the people in Montana and how welcoming it is here. And I think that word just continues to get out.”

Whitefish’s Downtowner Inn saw a similar achievement, recording one of its busiest summers in years.

Dan Cutforth, owner and manager of the motel, credited the success to an influx in Canadian visitors as well as attractive weather and improvements in the economy.

“I would say we’re right back to where we were (before the recession),” he said. “I think people are traveling more again.”