Posted: Sep 4, 2013 3:32 PM by MTN News
As Labor Day weekend wrapped up, all indications are that 2013 may surpass the record-breaking 2012 for summer travel in Montana.
Montana hotel occupancy exceeded the national average in June and July for the second consecutive year, peaking in July at 82 percent.
"This is great news for all small businesses and Montanans," said Sandra Johnson-Thares, Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association President and Owner of the O'Haire Motor Inn. "Montana still led the nation for June and July. That means that as the U.S. economy is just beginning to improve, folks are already choosing to spend their family's time and money in Montana."
It also means that revenues from the state lodging tax, or "bed tax", will also increase making more money available to fund Montana's state parks, university system, historical society, heritage commission and the arts as well as the state's general fund, said Johnson-Thares.
Preliminary survey results published in August by the Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana show an almost 9 percent year-over-year increase in the number of travelers visiting the state in the first two quarters.
According to the National Park Service, Glacier Park saw an additional 45,000 visitors in June and July, an increase of almost 5 percent over last year. Additionally, the report indicates that Glacier is on pace to have its best overall year since 2010.
"We are very excited to see the increase in visitors to our park and the economic success that comes with it," said Racene Friede, executive director for Glacier Country. "Many western Montana communities were hit hard by the recession and tourism has been a big part of their recovery as some traditional industries continue to lag."
In fact, many small communities that had been wholly dependent on industries like timber or mining have completely restructured their economy to better attract visitors with world-class events and activities that share the local, Montana experience with great success, Friede said.
According to Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle in a recent West Yellowstone News article, vehicle traffic into Yellowstone Park did see an increase of 2.68 percent with a total of 291,500 recreational automobiles and RV's, compared to 283,898 in 2012.
Though Yellowstone saw a decrease in visitors of almost 8 percent for June and July, compared to 2012, this has been widely attributed to a change this year in how the number of visitors entering the park is calculated.
According to Hottle, visitation numbers haven't really changed all that much and the reduced figure is attributed to the park changing its person-per-vehicle multiplier from 2.91 persons-per-vehicle in previous years to 2.58 this year.
"We're still on about the same track as the last five years. We've been pretty across the board with over 3 million visitors (annually)," Hottle said in the article.
Tourism continues to be a leading industry for Montana generating more than $3.2 billion in 2012 and supporting more than 40,000 jobs statewide. Though many factors affect each of the state's major industries, according to a recent briefing in Helena from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, U.S. consumer spending seems to be the predominant factor that drives Montana tourism.
"Our state is uniquely positioned to take full advantage as consumer confidence and spending continues upward," said Montana Lodging and Hospitality Executive Director, Stuart Doggett. "Tourism brings immense value and diversity to our state's economy and as long as we continue to reinvest a portion of the funds generated by the lodging tax in it, we will see huge returns in the next few years."
According to Doggett, tourism's anticipated success will be due, in large part, to the state's nationally acclaimed marketing strategy. While other states reduced or completely stopped marketing their states as a travel destination during the recession, the Montana Office of Tourism successfully filled that void in domestic markets.
Photo from the Montana State Travel Site, visitmt.com