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Montana News

Montana Tourism Numbers Up, Spending Down

Tourists Taking Photos at Sacred Dancing Cascades in Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park/Jacob W. Frank (PD)
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Tourists Taking Photos at Sacred Dancing Cascades in Glacier National Park.

Last year’s tourism numbers were up almost 8 percent over 2014. Almost 12 million out-of-state travelers visited Montana in 2015, but those tourists didn’t spend as much money as they have in previous years.

Non-resident tourists spent almost $3.6 billion in Montana last year. Norma Nickerson says that’s an enormous infusion of money into state coffers.

"That helps support jobs. It obviously helps support a lot of businesses in our communities and around the whole state. All of it combined together [resident and nonresident] that’s over 52,000 jobs – almost 53,000 jobs - that are related to tourism in some form or another."

Nickerson is the director of the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. She says that $3.6 billion is about 8 percent less than was spent by out-of-state visitors in 2014.

"And everybody’s thinking, 'What the heck is going on?' My little crystal ball isn’t telling me everything, but we have some ideas."

For one, the Canadian dollar cratered last year. It’s currently trading at around 70 cents against the American dollar. Simply put, Canadians aren’t shopping here like they used to.

Cheap gas prices may be another factor. Nickerson suspects that’s prompting people to take more trips. In other words, they’re traveling more, but not buying as much stuff along the way. That may explain last year’s record visitation numbers at both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

So what about 2016? Nickerson says most tourist-related businesses expect to see another visitation increase this year. The National Park Service Centennial celebration bolsters that expectation.

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