A new report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana shows a large increase in the number of visitors from outside the state.
According to The Missoulian, the 2005 total of 10.1 million visitors marked an increase of 3.3% over 2004.
“Visitation in Montana has been going up on a nice, basic, steady, smooth trajectory for some time, so that part isn’t new,” said Norma Nickerson, director of the ITRR. “The new part is when we look at the kind of visitors from outside the state, and the large increase in their expenditures.”
She pointed out that the tourism institute’s study found last year’s visitors were wealthier than those in previous years; the percentage of visitors earning $100,000 a year or more increased by 7%. Further, their daily expenditures rose from $120 in 2004 to $144 last year. All in all, they spent more than $2.7 billion.
That might help explain why recreational shopping was one of the top three activities cited by nonresident visitors, along with driving for pleasure and wildlife watching. Obviously, visitors driving for pleasure weren’t worried about high gas prices.
Apparently, tourists weren’t deterred by high gas prices this year, either, said Sarah Lawlor of Travel Montana. Though her agency, like ITRR, hasn’t compiled statistics on the 2006 travel season yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that tourism this year was about on par with last year.
That means that, while many tourism-based businesses were nervous about high gas prices, only a few pockets in Montana were actually hurt by them this summer, she said.
“Anecdotally speaking, people were feeling like it was a good summer,” she said.
It’s harder to say whether gas prices in 2005 encouraged more people – 30% last year, compared to 19% the year before – to fly for at least a portion of their trip. That might have more to do with the number of flights and seat availability, Nickerson said.
She also noted that nonresident stays were almost a full night longer than the year before: 4.55 nights, up from 3.92 nights.