2013 was a good year for tourism despite the October government shutdown, according to preliminary findings by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. More than 11 million nonresidents visited Montana and spent nearly $3.5 billion in the Treasure State.
Nonresident visitation was up 2 percent over 2012. Spending by nonresidents was up even higher: 4 percent in quarter one, 5 percent in quarter two and 20 percent in quarter three.
“The numbers show, and business owners have verified, that spending increased greatly over the previous year,” said Kara Grau, ITRR assistant director of economic analysis. “Spending was up across the board in all categories, including a 17 percent increase each in restaurant and bar, retail, and gasoline, as well as a 30 percent increase in groceries and snacks.”
An interesting trend of where vacationers come from has occurred over the past three years. Visitors from Alberta have become a higher percent of the overall nonresident vacationer in the first three quarters and now represent the top spot of where Montana’s nonresidents reside.
In 2011, Albertans represented 6 percent of all vacationers (Q1-Q3). This increased by 2 percentage points per year for the next two years. In 2013, vacationers from Alberta represented 10 percent of all vacationers to the state, followed by 8 percent from Washington and 7 percent from California.
“This is a significant change for Montana” said Norma Nickerson, ITRR director. “Part of this is due to the relatively stable and nearly equal in value exchange rate between Canada and the United States. In addition, we hear from our neighbors to the north that the Glacier National Park area is less crowded than the Banff area. Many people want the more laid-back visitor experience, and Montana can provide that.”
As the 16-day government shutdown in October relates to Montana tourism, it mostly affected the national parks and those who service visitors near the parks. Even with the shutdown, Glacier’s overall numbers appear to be up by one percentage point. Yellowstone, while down 7 percent, has updated its people/vehicle count to more accurately represent visitation. This adjustment may be the sole reason for the decline. However, both parks and their concessionaires have said it could have been a banner year if not for the shutdown.
Tourism business owners expressed their experiences related to the government shutdown in the ITRR annual Outlook survey:
- “The government shutdown hurt our much-needed fall revenues for 2013.”
- “Even with the government shutdown in a weaker but important part of our season, we still managed to come out with a 3 percent occupancy increase.”
- “The government shutdown resulted in lost business. Hopefully this will not happen again.”
Other 2013 trends show the following preliminary numbers: Rooms sold in the state were up half a percent. Skier visits for the 2012-13 season were up 2.6 percent. Airport deboardings were down 2 percent. Overall national park visitation in Montana was down 5 percent.
The 2013 Review and 2014 Outlook report is available at http://www.itrr.umt.edu/Research2014/2013Review2014Outlook.pdf. All information and reports published by ITRR are available at http://www.itrr.umt.edu.