An estimated 11.7 million people visited Montana in 2015, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, according to preliminary data compiled by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
The nonresident visitors spent almost $3.6 billion in the Treasure State last year, an 8 percent decrease over 2014. Initial observations indicate that the decrease in spending may be attributed, in large part, to lower fuel prices, according to analysts.
Though spending did not reach the record levels of 2014, the benefits of travel-related spending coming into the state still ripple throughout the economy, supporting more than 37,000 jobs directly and 52,750 jobs in total, according to the ITRR. Nonresidents contributed more than $208 million in state and local taxes in 2015.
Despite the decrease in overall statewide spending, many business owners reported an increase in customers during the past year on a recent ITRR survey. Of the tourism-related business owners surveyed this fall, 59 percent saw an increase in visitation or customers in 2015, while 19 percent reported seeing a decrease.
Of those businesses that benefited from increased visitation, 33 percent had a significant increase – more than 10 percent over 2014. Looking forward, 61 percent of the businesses responding to the ITRR survey expect to see their visitation increase in 2016.
In 2015, spending on gasoline by nonresidents was down 36 percent compared to 2014. With gasoline so inexpensive, people can travel more often and likely took more weekend trips, increasing the total number of visitors to Montana, ITRR analysts stated.
Additionally, the decrease in the value of the Canadian dollar has contributed to less spending by Montana’s northern neighbors, who typically represent about 14 percent of all nonresident visitors to the state. While they are still visiting Montana, their spending appears to have tapered off over the past year, according to ITRR.
All information and reports published by ITRR are available online at http://www.itrr.umt.edu.