Summer Tourism Season Touted as Success

By Beacon Staff

Labor Day has come and gone, marking the traditional end of the 2013 summer tourism season for Northwest Montana. And now that the dust is settling, some groups are saying 2013 tourism numbers could rival those from 2012’s record-setting season.

Montana Voices of Tourism, a collaboration of more than 20 organizations around the state, touted the 2013 season as a success, with statistics showing high hotel occupancy rates and solid national park visitation numbers.

According to Smith Travel Research, Inc., Montana’s hotel occupancy surpassed the national average – for the second year in a row – in July, at 82 percent. The report said occupancy of available rooms increased by over 2 percent compared to last year, and the overall revenue per available room increased by roughly 4 percent.

Glacier National Park saw increased visitation over 2012 as well, with about 30,000 more visitors in June, roughly 15,500 more in July, and 22,000 more in August. According to the National Park Service, the August total was 626,556, putting it about 6,000 visitors behind the record-breaking centennial celebration in 2010.

Total visitation for Glacier Park thus far is over 1.7 million, and if September numbers hold up to previous years’ standards, this could be the fourth year in the last five with more than 2 million total visitors.

Joe Unterreiner, president at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, said the report of a successful tourism season rings true from what he’s seen and heard from chamber businesses.

“It feels like a very strong summer,” Unterreiner said. “Everything we’re feeling is very positive. There was always a concern out there about fires impacting us, and we managed to slide by that.”

While tourism has always been a part of the Flathead Valley’s economy, given the proximity to Glacier Park, Flathead Lake and popular ski hills, it has taken on greater meaning for local businesses following the economic recession and struggles among the local construction and timber industries.

According to the Montana Office of Tourism, 10.8 million visitors traveled to Montana in 2012. These visitors spent $3.3 billion, supporting 42,900 jobs in the tourism and recreation sector.

In 2012, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana reported that nonresident travel spending supported nearly 10 percent of the service sector jobs and 12 percent of retail jobs.

Glacier National Park mountains, trees and a bear are depicted on the rear of a vehicle parked outside the Lake McDonald Lodge. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The Voices of Tourism report stated that preliminary survey results from ITRR in August show a year-over-year increase of almost 9 percent in the number of travelers visiting Montana in the first two quarters.

In the Flathead, local business organizations and chambers of commerce have been working to keep the tourist flow streaming into the fall shoulder season, with major events planned after Labor Day, including the upcoming Oktoberfest celebrations in Whitefish.

Kevin Gartland, executive director at the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, has said hotel reservations for those weekends were already in the books in the spring, and he expects the event to create considerable traffic.

Unterreiner said the anecdotal information he’s getting from chamber businesses looks strong, and he’s excited to see the third-quarter report, which will contain hard data on the summer numbers, expected at the end of this month. With 2009 being what he called “an adjustment” year in regards to housing, tourism and the national economy, Unterreiner said the bounce-back seen for 2010, 2011 and 2012 should be expected for this year as well.

“2013 is feeling like another record year,” Unterreiner said.