Flathead lodging industry reports solid summer season

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Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Guests wait to check in Thursday afternoon at Holiday Inn Express. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.

Montana made its mark in the tourism industry nationwide this summer, topping all 50 states in July with a hotel-room occupancy rate of 84 percent. Flathead Valley hotels certainly weren’t left out of the equation.

The Holiday Inn Express in Kalispell was a leading example. The hotel, which has been open five years, was at 99 percent occupancy of its 111 rooms for July and August — “almost perfect,” General Manager Angie Bowman said.

“We’ve had a stellar year,” she said, noting that traffic grew by 8 percent over summer 2011.

That figure matches the state average of an increase of 8 percent in June, and more than 4 percent in July over the previous year, according to Smith Travel Research Inc. Through July, year-to-date hotel occupancy was up 3 percent in Montana and room revenue is up nearly 10 percent compared to 2011.

A full house is fairly routine most years for Hidden Moose Lodge in Whitefish — with 80 to 90 days consecutively sold out most years — but owner Kent Taylor said demand for rooms was definitely higher this season. He said they don’t just turn people away cold, however, but try to route them to other lodgers.

“Everyone is trying to accommodate guests here,” he said.

Even smaller establishments in out-of-the-way spots, such as the six-room Cabin Creek Landing Bed & Breakfast in Marion, had reason to be happy with 2012’s summer season.

“We’ve been full quite a bit this summer,” manager Chet Todd said. “My wife and I haven’t had any break or lack of guests for a couple months.”

It’s only the second year that Cabin Creek has been open. The management has been pleasantly surprised with how the establishment has been discovered already.

The summer of 2011, they had always been able to take overflow guests from places that were full. This year, they sometimes had to turn down referrals.

It was all encouraging to owner RIck Todd.

“We started from ground zero last year, and we’re out in Marion, so we’re just getting known,” he said. “We’re out west, so people don’t know how cool it is. People come to see Glacier, then they explore around here, and see that it’s very cool as well.”

The June 20 opening of Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier Park helped move the park’s visitor numbers, with visits up 12 percent — an additional 102,863 people — in June and July compared to 2011. Year-to-date visitation to Glacier is up 14 percent.

Though the Belton Chalet in West Glacier doesn’t have exact numbers for the summer tallied yet, lodge manager Noreen Hanson said the Belton almost certainly has had one of its better years. A confluence of positive events has worked in the establishment’s favor, from the early park opening to the weather in North Dakota.

Last year many Amtrak runs were canceled due to flooding in the Midwest, and many passengers couldn’t make good on their plans to stop off at the Belton. Amtrak’s runs stayed on schedule this summer.

“The nice thing was, we did see some of those guests this year,” Hanson said of those who canceled in 2011. “And people come to the Belton Chalet to see the Belton also.”

Hanson said the Belton still is strong in September, with solid bookings for another week or so.

Things are not slowing in September at the Holiday Inn Express either, Bowman said, as older travelers, who don’t have to stick to the school calendars, still are filling up rooms.

Bowman applauded the efforts of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce for bringing in events such as this weekend’s Dragon Boat Races and the Huckleberry 100 bicycle race on Sept. 15, in helping lure even more visitors and filling hotel rooms as summer winds into fall.

“Kalispell is really marketing itself, bringing in more people for different activities,” she said. “They’re really going to have an impact on hotels and everyone in the community.”

Canadian traffic has also been key to business this year, Bowman said, and the fact that the duty-free allowance increased this year didn’t hurt. As of June 1, Canadians were allowed to bring back $200 in duty-free goods after a 24-hour stay or $800 in duty-free goods after 48 hours in the United States, doubling the limit prior to that time.

Taylor said Hidden Moose Lodge can probably attribute about 30 percent of its bookings to Canadian customers, and the lodge should be helping keep bookings solid through Canadian Thanksgiving, which is Oct. 8 this year.  

“The Canadian market just continues to expand,” he said. “Those box stores are a big draw.”

Other tourism numbers have spoken well for Montana’s travel industry in general.

The number of passengers at Montana airports increased year-over-year by 7 percent in June and 8 percent in July, according to reports from the Montana Department of Transportation.

“We benefitted from steady gas prices, a national uptick in travel and warm weather early in the season. Paired together with Montana’s strong tourism marketing, it seems like everything came together to create a successful summer,” Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association Executive Director Stuart Doggett said in a press release.

Last year 10.5 million out-of-state travelers spent $2.8 billion in Montana, and year-to-date figures indicate that these numbers will be higher in 2012 if current trends continue.

Business reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Guests wait to check in Thursday afternoon at Holiday Inn Express. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.


Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Angie Bowman, general Manager of the Holiday Inn Express, poses for a picture Thursday afternoon. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.

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