Keeping Up with Summer

Tourism season rolling along with high visitation, large events

By Dillon Tabish

Reaching the heart of summer, and the peak of tourism season, this appears to be another strong year for the Flathead Valley as it bolsters its status as a popular destination.

At Glacier Park International Airport, there were 43,339 passengers flying in and out of Kalispell in June, nearly 6,000 more than last year. At the mid-year point, GPIA has seen nearly 21,000 more passengers than a year ago, one of the biggest jumps among the state’s largest airports.

In Whitefish, resort tax collections were up 6.65 percent in May, or $10,065, over last year. The collections were up roughly $15,000 over three years ago. For the year-to-date, collections were up 5.44 percent, or $97,297.

In Kalispell, the Tourism Business Improvement District is reporting a 7 percent increase in the number of lodging nights versus last year.

“That’s a really good indication that we’re busy,” said Diane Medler, director of the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau.

“Overall we had a really solid spring, and then summer got off to a good start.”

The strong start to tourism season comes in spite of harsh spring weather and the late opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, which normally acts as the valley’s tourist beacon. Visitation was down slightly in June at the park, largely due to the Sun Road’s closure until early July.

“The delayed opening of the Sun Road certainly had an impact but not a dramatic impact,” Medler said. “I think that’s because of all the other activities being pushed.”

Indeed, the Flathead Valley has a bolstered lineup of attractions, such as the Spartan Race and Whitefish Mountain Resort’s growing summer opportunities.

The second annual Spartan Race in May drew 5,700 registered racers, 30 percent more than last year.

The event generated 1,300 room nights in Kalispell hotels, Medler said, and the figure probably was more than that considering the TBID statistics don’t count lodging in other area communities.

“We know the other hotels in the valley were also positively impacted,” she said.

Next year’s Spartan Race will be two days with a 13-mile “Beast” race added alongside the 6-mile “Sprint,” Medler said.

The valley will also benefit from other large-scale events and conventions, including the upcoming Mountain Madness Airshow and a large convention at the Hilton Garden Inn held by the National Association of Police Officers.

Medler said the valley is gaining traction as a location for conventions because of the scenic opportunities that make it an easy sell.

“We have some really nice sites and facilities. Once they get here, they know they’ll have good attendance at their meetings because this is such a vacation destination,” Medler said.

Then there’s the Dragon Boat Festival September 13-14, a popular attraction that will once again have more than 80 teams competing, including a majority of out-of-market visitors.

Whitefish Mountain Resort, another tourist magnet, has successfully evolved into a year-round destination with its emergent summer activities, including zip-lining, miles of bike trails and other family friendly attractions.

“It used to be zip lines were our bread and butter in the summer. Now the aerial park and everything else are just as popular. We’re cruising along pretty well,” Riley Polumbus, resort spokesperson, said.

Polumbus said the lodging at the resort has also noticeably increased this summer.

The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research is hosting its Mid-Year Economic Update in Kalispell, July 31 at the Red Lion Inn. At the public gathering, economists will give updates on tourism and other industries and how the state’s economy is faring after six months into 2014.

Patrick Barkey, director of the BBER, said the Flathead Valley has emergent opportunities in manufacturing and other industries, and indeed tourism continues to become stronger.

“The (economic) rebound there, I wouldn’t say it’s in full stride but you can’t miss it,” he said.

Upcoming Special Events

  • Governors’ Cup Golf Tournament, July 31-Aug. 2, Flathead Valley
  • Antique & Classic Boat Show, Aug. 2-3, Lakeside
  • Festival of the Arts, Aug. 2-3, Bigfork
  • Festival Amadeus, Aug. 5-7
  • Huckleberry Days Arts Festival, Aug. 8-10, Whitefish
  • Riverfront Blues Festival, Aug. 8-9, Libby
  • Flathead Lake Blues Festival, Aug. 15-16, Polson
  • Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop, Aug. 24-31, Bigfork
  • Northwest Montana Fair, Aug. 13-17, Kalispell
  • Mountain Madness Air Show, Aug. 30-31, Kalispell
  • Taste of Whitefish, Sept. 4
  • Libby Nordicfest, Sept. 12-14
  • Dragon Boat Festival, Sept. 13-14

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