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Rep. Mark Noland

Rep. Mark Noland (R-Bigfork)

The tourism industry in Montana is booming and it’s easy to understand why. Montana is the best place to explore over a 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 dogsled 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.

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. The billions brought in by Montana’s tourism industry significantly impact Montana’s job market, economy, and lowers taxes for Montana’s residents.

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 U.S. 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 Senator 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.

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Rep. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork represents House District 10 in the Montana Legislature. He is the chairman of the House Business and Labor Committee.

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