Record Number of Tourists Visited Montana in 2012

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA — A University of Montana study has found that more tourists visited Montana in 2012 and spent more money than in any previous year.

The school’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research estimates that 10.8 million people visited Montana last year and spent $3.27 billion. That’s a 2 percent increase in visitors from 2011 and the money spent is about a 15 percent increase.

“People are more comfortable than they were a few years back and it shows,” Norma Nickerson, director of the institute, told the Missoulian. “They are going on those outfitted trips that they were not comfortable paying for before. I like to call it pent-up spending energy.”

The institute said that nonresident travelers supported $2.6 billion in economic activity in the state and about 30,000 Montana jobs, adding up to about $805 million in labor income.

Nickerson said this year will likely top 2012, and she predicted an additional 2 percent increase in nonresident tourists and a 4 percent increase in the money they spend.

“It is going to be another good year for the nonresident travel industry,” she said. “If gas prices keep going up that could dampen our projections a little bit, but at this point I don’t think that will happen.”

Kara Grau, the institute’s assistant director of economic analysis, said information is collected throughout the year to come up with the estimates.

“It seems Montana has regained any ground lost during the recession in terms of statewide visitation and overall visitor spending,” she said. “It’s very important for the travel and recreation industry to have this kind of information updated on a regular basis. We know conditions can change quickly, and current information is essential.”

Areas around Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park were the big winners, the institute found.

“That never changes,” Nickerson said. “The Glacier Country travel region and the Yellowstone Country travel region will always outperform the others because the parks are such huge draws, and new visitors will almost always visit one of them.”

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