From the May 18, 2013 edition of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
By Laura Lundquist

Tourism may still play second fiddle to agriculture as Montana’s leading industry, but not for long if some of Montana’s small business owners have their say.

About 300 of those business owners traveled from around the state to attend Sen. Jon Tester’s 13th Small Business Opportunity Workshop on Friday at Montana State University.

This is the third time Tester has held the workshop in Bozeman, and this time, the focus was Montana’s tourism economy.

In opening remarks, Mayor Sean Becker said Bozeman was an appropriate location for the workshop because since the time of Lewis and Clark, it has drawn visitors, many who return to settle.

“We’ve always been a town of in-migration, and that brings innovation and a lot of outside ideas. The tourism economy is a huge part of that,” Becker said.

The workshop featured speakers who addressed tourism at both the national and local level, but all said that the tourism industry had nowhere to go but up in Montana.

Tester said a Kauffman Foundation report showed that Montana has the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the country, and a lot of that activity is focused on tourists.

Last year, 11 million tourists visited Montana, supporting 43,000 jobs.

“As you know, I come from agriculture, and I believe agriculture brings in $3.6 billion (a year); tourism is $3.2 billion,” Tester said. “We all know the kind of opportunity that is out there to expand that part of our economy and create more jobs.”

In his overview of trends in tourism, Roger Dow, the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said $3.2 billion doesn’t include spending by Montanans who travel within the state. They probably bump the amount up to around $4 billion, Dow said.

“I often say this industry is the Rodney Dangerfield of industries – we get no respect,” Dow said. “One of the challenges is we’re often seen as frivolous. We represent fun, but we’re also dead serious.”

Tourism spending in Montana is up 15 percent over the past few years, while increases in spending in the rest of the country average about 5 percent, Dow said. Part of the reason may be that people want to visit places that are close during a poor economy, and Montana offers many natural attractions, Dow said.

Dow encouraged the business people to do three things to not only keep their slice of the market pie but to enlarge the pie: make visitors feel special, make things simple and constantly build relationships.

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