From the Sept. 16, 2012 edition of the Missoulian
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

Tourism has been a growing bright spot in western Montana’s economy, even as other major economic sectors – think real estate and forest-based jobs – have lagged. Recent numbers indicate that this past summer season was no exception.

The entire state’s tourism industry saw another strong summer, although different parts of the state likely filled with tourists for different reasons. Eastern Montana, undoubtedly, filled many of its vacant hotel, motel and other available rooms with Bakken Oil Field workers. But that wasn’t the case in Glacier National Park, where visitation soared by nearly 14 percent over last year.

Overall, some 1.7 million visitors came to Glacier National Park from the first of the year through August, compared to 1.5 million by the same time last year. Visitation numbers were higher this year than last year for each month of May, June, July and August. And although the season is certainly winding down, western Montana’s national park is still, of course, open and ready to welcome more visitors.

So are Montana’s innkeepers and airports, both of which also have good reason to celebrate this past summer’s statistics. According to the Montana Department of Transportation, airport traffic rose by 7 percent in June and 8 percent in July. Meanwhile, according to the University of Montana’s Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research, Montana saw the highest hotel occupancy rates in the nation – 84 percent – during the month of July. Through June and July, the state kept occupancy rates higher than the national average, and for the year to date, hotel occupancy increased by 3 percent. This translates into more revenue for Montana’s innkeepers – an increase of nearly 10 percent over last year, according to Smith Travel Research.

And it translates into more money going to Montana’s general fund, as well as more money going toward the state’s tourism marketing efforts. Montana levies a 4 percent lodging facility use tax and a 3 percent lodging facility sales tax on most overnight facilities, including hotels, campgrounds, and bed and breakfasts. That 3 percent is what goes to the general fund. The other 4 percent is turned over to the Revenue Service, which divvies up $400,000 a year for the Montana Heritage Preservation Fund, and divides the rest of it thusly: 1 percent to the Montana Historical Society; 2.5 percent to fund the Montana Travel Research Program; 6.5 percent to Fish, Wildlife and Parks for facility maintenance; 22.5 percent to regional nonprofit tourism corporations in Montana or similar entities; and 67.5 percent to the Commerce Department.

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