News & Features

Tourism: Fewer Visitors but More Cash Spent In 2018

Officials estimate 12.2 million visitors spent $3.7 billion in Montana in 2018

Tourism is big business in Montana, especially in the Flathead Valley, and initial estimates show more money is flowing in from out-of-state visitors.

Preliminary numbers from the 2018 tourism season indicate that while fewer people visited Montana in 2018 than the previous year, those travelers who did come to Big Sky Country spent more than those from 2017.

It’s still early in the data-crunching process, but the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research issued its first estimates of how the 2018 tourism season compared to the previous year.

However, nearly half the businesses in Glacier Country — the western Montana counties near Glacier National Park — bucked the trend. Forty-nine percent of businesses here said their visitor volume increased, while 20 percent said it decreased. And while there may have been a dip in 2018 compared to 2017, 60 percent of Montana business owners expect an increase in customer volume in 2019.

Here is what we know about 2018 so far, according to the ITRR.

  • 12.2 million
    Non-resident visitors in 2018
  • 12.45 million
    Non-resident visitors in 2017
  • 2 percent
    Decrease in visitation from 2017 to 2018
  • $3.7 billion
    Total amount non-resident visitors spent in Montana in 2018
  • $3.36 billion
    Total amount non-resident visitors spent in Montana in 2017
  • 10 percent
    Increase in spending from 2017 to 2018
  • 58,000
    Jobs supported by tourism, both directly and indirectly
  • $1.1 billion
    Labor income of Montanans directly supported by non-resident spending

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.