4th of July should be big weekend for Montana tourism


HELENA, MT – Nearly 42 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day weekend, July 1-5. That’s the most since 2007.

This according to the latest news from AAA which attributes the increase to rising income, driven by a strong employment market and gas prices that remain well below those a year ago.

“This Independence Day, more Alaskans, Montanans and Wyomingians will get in their cars, board airplanes, and take buses, trains and cruise ships to celebrate our nation’s freedom with friends and family,” said Anna O’Donnell, AAA MountainWest spokesperson. With most students out of school, this is an ideal time for a family vacation as well, O’Donnell said.

According to the May 2015 reports from the National Park Service, recreational visitors for the year to date to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone are up by 29% and 24%, respectively.

“The recent mild winter and early spring definitely gave our traditional tourism season a jump start before the Memorial Day weekend,” said Mike Garcia, director of Voices of Montana Tourism, a non-profit group that champions the broad economic benefits tourism provides to Montana. “We anticipate this early success will lead to 2015 being a very impressive year for tourism.”

Nearly 11 million non-residents spent $3.9 billion in Montana in 2014, according to the latest report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

“Since 2010, non-resident spending has increased by over 59% but total annual visitors increased by less than 5% in the same period,” Garcia said. “This is by far the strongest indication that the state’s promotion efforts have been successful in growing tourism sustainably.”

The shrinking growth in accommodations spending, however, could have an impact on how successful future years could be for tourism in Montana.

“Annual spending on hotels & motels have remained relatively flat in recent years at about 10% of total non-resident expenditures,” Garcia said. “In 2014, it fell to 9.97% and spending for groceries & snacks grew to 9.03% of total spending. We may very well see expenditures for groceries exceed hotels & motels as the #4 non-resident expenditure in 2015.”

This, of course, will be great news for grocers and food distributors in Montana but may be an indication of our state’s weakening ability to generate enough promotion dollars solely from lodging taxes to remain competitive in an improving economy, Garcia said.

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Summary of Economic Impact of non-resident spending 2014.

Full ITRR report for 2014 and year-to-year comparison.

FY 2014 Lodging & Accommodations tax revenues & distribution.