Tourists in Montana spent a record $3.98 billion in the state last year and that money supported more than 55,000 jobs, according to new data from the University of Montana.
The UM Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research has released its preliminary “2014 Montana Nonresident Traveler Expenditures & Economic Contribution" report, which is compiled from surveys of out-of-state visitors at gas stations, airports and other sites across the state.
The report found that tourism produced $1.48 billion in employee compensation and $276 million in state and local taxes.
Nonresident visitor spending directly supports $3.26 billion of economic activity in the state and indirectly supports an additional $1.86 billion, for a total contribution of $5.11 billion to Montana’s economy.
Approximately 11 million tourists visited Montana from out of state last year, which was about the same number as in 2013. However, the money those travelers brought into the economy increased 10 percent, from $3.62 billion to $3.98 billion.
Tourists spent 32 percent of their money, or $1.27 billion, on gasoline and diesel. They spent $707 million on restaurants and bars and $675 million on retail sales. Farmers markets accounted for $5.49 million in visitor spending.
According to the National Park Service, Glacier National Park recorded its busiest year in history, while Yellowstone National Park welcomed more than 3 million visitors for the eighth consecutive year. Montana State Parks also reported its highest visitation numbers on record.
Jeri Duran, administrator for the Montana Office of Tourism, said that statewide efforts to unify tourism promotion under a single brand have improved how Montana is marketed and that is translating into positive gains for local businesses.
“Since the Montana branding initiative began in 2007, we’ve used the pillars of spectacular unspoiled nature, vibrant and charming small towns, breathtaking experiences by day, and relaxing hospitality at night to communicate the essence of Montana,” she said in a statement. “By coming together under one umbrella, the industry has seen its success multiply.”
The ITRR usually releases its final report in the spring. Historically, visitation and economic contribution figures don’t change significantly from the preliminary to the final reports.