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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

State's Budget Woes Mean Less Money To Lure Tourists

Overview of tourist spending in Montana.
University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research
Overview of tourist spending in Montana.

Montana’s budget to entice tourists to the state is about to take a multimillion dollar hit. Next week, budget reductions triggered by lower than expected state revenue will make Montana less competitive, officials say.

Last year, tourists spent about $3.5 billion in Montana, according to the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation.

In order to bring that money into the state, Montana’s Office of Tourism spends a lot on promotional content, like digital ads, space in magazines and billboards, and TV ads like this one.

“The terrain is just magnificent. And it’s open and wild. You can ski run after run without seeing anyone else.”

Emilie Ritter Saunders works for the Montana Department of Commerce. She says those ad campaigns, and other content, promoting what she calls the "Montana brand," are really effective at bringing money into the state.

“After someone is influenced by one of our ads, we know that visitors spend between $70 and $90 for every dollar we invest in marketing.”

The commerce department calculates that rate of return through surveys of visitors, and by tracking visitors who interact with the state’s online marketing.

Economists at the department say Montana’s return on investment for tourism marketing is about on par with other states it competes with for tourism dollars.

But with state revenues falling about $74 million below expectations last year,  a new law mandates spending reductions. Montana’s tourism marketing budget is in line for a 8 percent decrease over the next two years, that’s a little more than $3 million.

“So, having less money to market Montana as a destination will undoubtedly make us less competitive," Ritter Saunders says. "We’re competing with states like Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and California. This reduction means we may be in a position of buying fewer ads, fewer TV spots, which means we’ll reach fewer people.”

Ritter Saunders says it’s still unclear how the reductions to state tourism marking will impact the number of visitors coming into Montana.

According the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, visitor spending is responsible for 8 percent of all jobs in Montana. 

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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