BUTTE - Montana's tourism industry had cause to celebrate on Tuesday when Travelocity, the global travel company, announced a big gift at the Montana Economic Development Summit.

With great fanfare - and a giant check - Sam Gilliland, CEO of the company, announced that Travelocity is investing $500,000 to help promote Montana tourism and will give $10,000 to the inaugural Montana Folk Festival in Butte.

Bringing more tourists to Montana is cause to celebrate, came the response from Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. To wit: More than 10 million visitors came to the state in 2009 and spent $3 billion while they were here.

But Montana relies heavily on travel companies - including Travelocity - to get out the word about the state's beauty and culture.

Travelocity's $500,000 promotion will be a four-month blitzkrieg to market the state and all it has to offer, Gilliland said. To get the project started, the company and its famous traveling gnome spent the past eight days exploring out-of-the-way places and iconic state treasures.

Making a point, Gilliland showed photos of the many places the gnome visited, provoking guffaws when the trademark elf showed up at the Missoula Club bar.

Since the company began showcasing Montana on its website two months ago, he said, hotels that advertise with Travelocity have seen a 40 percent increase in bookings - and "featured properties" had an 80 percent increase in bookings.

"When Senator Baucus asked us to partner with him in promoting Montana, we jumped at the opportunity," Gilliland said. "There are so many great destinations, events and people in Montana - and Travelocity can help bring the world to the Big Sky State for those unique and authentic travel experiences.

"We're looking forward to being a part of the state's increasing travel and tourism economy."

For the last two years, Travelocity was a sponsor of the National Folk Festival in Butte. It was such a success, the company now will sponsor the inaugural Montana Folk Festival, which builds on the momentum of the national event with the hope of becoming a permanent fixture in the state.

Gilliland also announced that Travelocity will be a sponsor for the famed Miles City Bucking Horse Sale and other events, including the Crow Agency Crow Fair, the Western Montana Fair and Rodeo in Missoula and Butte's Irish Festival.

"We will continue to work to grow tourism in Montana," Gilliland said, "and give the Big Sky State the spotlight it deserves."

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