Glacier region tops state in tourist spending

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  • A tourist snaps a photo of a mountain goat crossing the trail to Hidden Lake near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in August 2010. (Inter Lake file photo)

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    Fall colors at Bowman Lake.

  • A tourist snaps a photo of a mountain goat crossing the trail to Hidden Lake near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in August 2010. (Inter Lake file photo)

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    Fall colors at Bowman Lake.

Glacier Country got a bigger slice of the $3.04 billion non-resident tourism pie than any other region in the state in 2016, according to a recent report published by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

The travel area, which comprises Flathead, Glacier, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders counties, received about 32 percent of all non-resident tourist dollars last year. South central Montana, including Yellowstone County, was second highest with 29 percent of the state total.

The annual report contains data on everything from which airports tourists flew into to how much they spent gambling and how many jobs their overall investment created. The state saw a 5 percent uptick in visitation over 2015, and the non-resident tourism industry created 47,660 jobs in the state. The report also shows a continuation of an interesting trend: since 2014, the total number of visitors to Montana continues to increase steadily, but the total amount of money those tourists spend continues to fall.

The report was put together by Kara Grau, assistant director of economic analysis at the Institute. She said the rise in tourist numbers and fall in their spending was one of the more interesting things they found in their anlysis this year.

“You hear more and more that people are interested in spending their money on experiences rather than things. It could be that we are seeing more and more of that,” Grau said. “I have to kind of keep an eye on things and see if that trend continues.”

Northwest Montana may see the most total investment, but the airport in Bozeman facilitates more tourist travel than the airports in Missoula and Kalispell combined. Last year, 12.6 percent of non-resident tourists flew into the state for their visit. The Bozeman airport accomodated about a third of those visitors, more than the Kalispell and Missoula airports combined.

Grau said it is common trip for visitors to fly into Bozeman for a trip where they visit both national parks, which may help explain why Bozeman’s high air traffic can still facilitate high investment in the northwestern part of the state.

“We do see a lot of people fly into the Bozeman airport that then travel into Northwest Montana. They may hit both national parks,” Grau said. “The money people spend isn’t necessarily correlated to where they fly into.”

Flights brought 12.6 percent of tourists into the state last year. Foreign tourists comprised just 13 percent of tourists in 2016, while 87 percent came from elsewhere in the U.S.

The Institute has been putting out this report annually since 2009. They collect data using a system of employees stationed throughout the state that survey visitors about their travels, and then analyze the data at their office in the Forestry School at the University of Montana in Missoula. Grau said the information they collect from year to year is partially formed by requests from Montana business owners and state agencies, and they have a base list of questions they have been asking for the duration of the studies.

The funds that go toward paying for the study come from the Lodging Facilities Use Tax, more commonly known as the Bed Tax, Grau said.

Those interested can find the report on the Insitute’s website at http://itrr.umt.edu/.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4438.

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