Tourists Spent Nearly $5.5 Billion in Montana Last Year

Report shows nonresident spending had a higher direct impact to the local economy than in previous years despite dip in dollars

By Micah Drew
The Logan Pass parking lot on July 13, 2020. Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road’s west side opened to car traffic to the top of Logan Pass on July 13, 2020. The east side remains closed. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Out-of-state visitors to the Treasure State spent nearly $5.5 billion during travel in 2023, money that supports local restaurants, hotels and other tourism-oriented businesses.

That’s according to the latest report on nonresident visitation to Montana conducted by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR) at the University of Montana. The quarterly research report has been ongoing since 2009 and involved more than 25,000 visitor surveys conducted around the state last year.

In 2023, roughly 12.5 million nonresident visitors to Montana spent about 6% less during their travels throughout the state compared to 2022, but had a larger direct impact on the state’s economy. Visitor spending directly supported an estimated 48,340 jobs last year, compared to fewer than 44,000 in 2022. State and local tax revenue also received a boost from travelers who contributed more than $414 million, a 25% increase from the previous year. Researchers estimate that tourism reduced the average tax burden on a Montana household by more than $930, up $200 from the previous year.

Behind a general desire to travel, visiting the state’s two national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone, has long been cited as a top reason for visiting the state, with a staggering 7.5 million combined annual visitors. Public lands in general, and the state’s scenic beauty, was an overall draw, with a majority of travelers using public lands to hike, sightsee and look for wildlife.

The results of this survey track with recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data that showed Montana’s outdoor recreation sector made up 4.4% of the state’s economy in 2022, the third highest contribution of any state.

According to ITRR, the total tourism-related economic impact for Montana is more than $8.2 billion. Here’s a breakdown of the report’s estimate of 2023 visitor spending and the economic ripple effects across the state.

Estimated total nonresident visitors in 2023, the third-highest ever behind 2021 and 2019.

$5.45 billion
Average overall nonresident traveler spending in Montana during 2023.

21.6 percent
Increase in spending from 2019-2021 average (2020 is often excluded from linear research due to Covid-19 impacts).

Amount tourists spent on gasoline and diesel statewide, the top expenditure category.

Expenditures related to lodging, comprising hotels (14%), short term rentals (5%) and campgrounds and RV Parks (2%).

5.02 nights
Average length of stay in Montana. Tourist stay longest in the summer, an average of 5.69 nights.

Percentage of tourists who visit the state from July-September. The fewest visitors, 11%, travel between January and March.

Visitors who came to Montana solely for vacation. 26% of visitors were just passing through, 19% visited friends and family and 10% were here on business.

Nonresident spending at farmers markets in Montana. ITRR has not yet broken down data by county, but in 2022 Flathead County farmers markets received 31.3% of statewide spending.

Visitors from Montana’s northern neighbors in Canada.

Estimated number of tourists who arrived via Glacier Park International Airport, making up 17% of all fliers to Montana, but accounting for 20% of statewide spending among those arriving by plane.

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