Montana, a state with a population of just over 1 million, played host to a record 12.4 million nonresident visitors last year, who spent $3.04 billion while they were here.
According to figures released Tuesday by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, that visitor spending supported nearly $2.5 billion in economic activity and nearly 34,700 statewide jobs.
Most of Montana’s visitors, 46 percent, come July through September, and two-thirds of all tourist dollars were spent either in the areas in and around Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
“Visitation in 2017 appears to be on the upswing as July in Glacier produced the highest visitation for any month on record, and Yellowstone, while slightly lower than last year, was still experiencing near-record visitation,” said ITTR director Norma Nickerson. “Montana’s two national parks continue to be a draw for out-of-state visitors.”
While most of Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, many tourists visit Montana either before or after entering the park.
Glacier Country in northwest Montana was the recipient of more than $1 billion in spending by tourists, which accounted for 32 percent of all spending in the state. In Yellowstone Country in south-central Montana, travel spending by nonresidents exceeded $930 million, which is 29 percent of statewide spending.
In Missoula County, tourists spent roughly $271.5 million, which supported 2,900 jobs. Of that money, more than $66 million was spent on fuel, $59 million was spent on restaurants and bars, $38 million was spent on hotels and motels and $33 million was spent on retail sales.
Kara Grau, assistant director of economic analysis at ITRR, said the institute pays people to conduct surveys of travelers and collect data all over the state.
“We take what people spend on an average day and how long they stay and use economic impact modeling software and that gets us to our big number,” she explained, referring to how the ITRR comes up with the economic impact of visitor spending.
Grau said visitation was up 5 percent in 2016, although the average spending by visitors in Montana has been slightly lower as a total for the past few years.
“We are seeing a little bit of a decrease over the past couple years in average spending,” she said. “Also, the number of people per group has increased, but the total number of groups has gone down.”
The full report, including estimates of the economic contribution of nonresident travelers in the other four Montana travel regions, along with county-level estimates, is available on the ITRR website at scholarworks.umt.edu/itrr_pubs/360/.