As mid-July and the height of the summer tourism season approaches, it’s a good time to slow down, remind ourselves of the many blessings these visitors bring and resolve to be better ambassadors for our beloved Garden City and Treasure State.
Yes, it is galling when all the good parking spaces seem to be filled by vehicles with out-of-state plates (and sometimes several parking spaces by a single large RV), or the streets clogged with lost-looking drivers unsure of their next turn, or the line at the ice cream shop overly long with customers who have never tried huckleberry ice cream and don’t know what Cold Smoke is.
And let’s not even get started on the crowded river access sites and competition to claim a favorite camping spot before someone else takes it.
It may seem like each summer brings more tourists than the year before, but in fact, the number of out-of-state visitors has somewhat plateaued recently. Those visitors are, however, spending just as much as in previous years – or more.
The latest report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana found the number of visitors has held relatively steady, at about 12.4 million.
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But last year, nonresident travelers spent a whopping $3.58 billion in the state. That’s an increase of more than 10% from the previous year. Missoula County alone saw an estimated $307 million in nonresident visitor spending last year.
Not only does this money support local businesses – everything from outfitters to innkeepers and other, non-tourism-related industries – but it also fills up state and local tax coffers and helps offset the added wear and tear on public infrastructure. Nonresident spending in Missoula County supports some 3,580 jobs and generates almost $221 million in economic activity.
Clearly, a lot of tourists are spending a lot of money to briefly experience a way of life we Montanans get to enjoy every day.
So this summer, show some compassion for all those poor folks who get only a taste of heaven, but don’t get to stay in Montana. Help wandering visitors find their way. Caution them to drive carefully while gawking at the wonders in Glacier National Park. Recommend they try both the huckleberry and Cold Smoke ice cream, after informing them that Cold Smoke is a beer made by one of Missoula's many award-winning local breweries.
If you simply can’t find it in yourself to extend a warm welcome, at least try to exercise a little extra patience. Remember: we are all tourism ambassadors for Missoula and Montana. Let’s represent our home well.