From the Dec. 11, 2012 edition of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
by Laura Lundquist

The recession is a thing of the past if measured by Montana’s popularity with tourists.

More than 10.9 million people will have visited Montana in 2012 by the year’s end, a 3.2 percent increase over 2011 totals, according to the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.

That number also tops the 2007 peak of 10.6 million tourists and the subsequent recession-related drop to about 10 million in 2008 and 2009.

“It’s still preliminary since 2012 isn’t over yet, but it probably won’t change much,” said institute director Norma Nickerson.

Montana’s national parks reported a 9 percent increase in the number of visitors during the first nine months of this year. That increase is slightly skewed because it reflects a 21 percent increase in Glacier National Park visitors, made possible by an earlier opening of the Going-To-The-Sun Highway.

Still, the number of people visiting Yellowstone National Park increased 2 percent to almost 4.4 million visitors through November.

Some of those visitors came to Montana through Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, which is close to becoming the busiest airport in the state.

Almost 400,000 travelers flew into Bozeman in 2011, and the airport is well on the way to meeting that mark this year. As of September, about 350,000 had shuffled through the airport gates.

More than 1.3 million people made use of the state’s eight airports.

Tourists not only spent money in the state but also appeared to spend a little more lavishly. They dropped almost $3.2 billion into Montana cash registers, which was 15 percent more than they spent in 2011 and slightly more than the $3.1 billion they spent in 2007.

The good news for businesses is that the upward trend is predicted to continue.

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