Montana Tourism Essential to Economy

I’m glad Sen. Steve Daines understands and values the important work Brand USA does for the Montana tourism industry

By Mark Noland

The tourism industry in Montana is booming and it’s easy to understand why. Montana is the best place to explore over 1 million acres of wilderness filled with glacier-carved terrain, crystal clear rivers, and 400-foot waterfalls all in between breathtaking mountain ranges. The sightseeing alone draws millions to the state every year.

During the winter, vacationers can ski our famous Big Sky Mountain, ice fish for northern pike, climb ice outside of Bozeman in Hyalite Canyon, or dog sled the famous “Eskimo Roller Coaster” in Olney. Furthermore, the summer season offers just as many wonderful options such as taking a ride down Big Sky’s adventure zip line, whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Most importantly, Montana is the home of two beloved national parks: Glacier and Yellowstone. The summer bloom is so magnificent at Glacier National Park that National Geographic recognized it as one of the most beautiful destinations for flowers, alongside Japan’s cherry blossoms and “the garden of Europe” in the Netherlands. It’s a must-see for visitors driving along the Going-to-the-Sun road from late June to mid-July when the prairie wildflowers in the alpine meadow are in full bloom.

With the many reasons to visit Montana year round, it’s no wonder the tourism industry is so important to our state’s economy. Around 12.2 million visitors traveled to Montana and spent almost $4 billion in the state last year. Oddly, the number of tourists slightly dropped from the previous year but the money spent by Montana’s tourists increased by 10 percent.

The billions brought in by Montana’s tourism industry significantly impacts Montana’s job market, economy, and lowers taxes for Montana’s residents. Despite Montana being one of five states that does not have a sales tax, the tourism industry contributes millions to the state’s tax base in excise tax on goods such as gasoline and alcohol.

Additionally, the tourism industry is crucial to Montana’s small business owners who specifically cater to our out-of-state visitors. Their livelihood depends on the influx of visitors to the state. More than anyone else, small business owners understand how crucial it is to draw more visitors to Montana every year. The tourism industry directly supports 38,890 jobs in Montana and an additional 14,000 jobs are indirectly supported. This means one in nine Montana jobs rely on the tourism industry.

Since tourism is a major driving force of our state’s economy, it’s crucial that we encourage tourists to return and promote all the great reasons to visit our state. American Travel websites, such as Travel & Leisure and Lonely Planet rave about Montana as a go-to destination. But how do international travelers find out about the wonderful sightseeing and adventures Montana has to offer? The answer is Brand USA.

Brand USA is a public-private partnership that promotes America’s most beautiful destinations and fun attractions such as whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River and driving down Going-to-the-Sun Road to see the flowers at peak bloom. Their work promoting Montana as a go-to destination is instrumental for our prosperous tourism-driven economy.

Currently, Brand USA is partnering with organizations like Visit Montana and Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission to promote all the wonderful tourism hotspots in our state. Brand USA also produced the award-winning IMAX film, National Parks Adventure, that is still playing in theaters across the globe. It’s even available to stream on Netflix. The film, narrated by Robert Redford, features Montana’s very own Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Brand USA is funded by a fee collected from foreign visitors under the visa waiver program and doesn’t cost American taxpayers a dime. Sadly, its funding is being threatened as the program is set to be reauthorized next year. But thankfully Montana Sen. Steve Daines recognizes the importance of this organization and I’m grateful he recently signed a letter to support Brand USA’s reauthorization.

There is so much Montana has to offer. No other state in the country can compare to our remarkable landscape and millions travel from across the country to enjoy what we get to every day. I’m glad Daines understands and values the important work Brand USA does for the Montana tourism industry and I hope he will continue to fight for its reauthorization.

Mark Noland is a Republican state representative from Bigfork. He is the chairman of the House Business and Labor Committee.