MISSOULA – Preliminary estimates by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana show that approximately 11.7 million nonresidents visited Montana in 2015 and spent almost $3.6 billion in the Treasure State. While the number of travelers visiting the state in 2015 increased by almost 8 percent compared to 2014 numbers, the total amount spent by those travelers decreased nearly 8 percent.
Though spending did not reach the record levels of 2014, the benefits of travel-related spending coming into the state still ripple throughout the economy, supporting more than 37,000 jobs directly and 52,750 jobs in total. Nonresidents contributed more than $208 million in state and local taxes in 2015.
Despite the decrease in overall statewide spending, many business owners reported an increase in customers during the past year on a recent ITRR survey. Of the tourism-related business owners surveyed by ITRR this fall, 59 percent saw an increase in visitation or customers in 2015, while 19 percent reported seeing a decrease. Of those businesses that benefited from increased visitation, 33 percent had a significant increase – more than 10 percent over 2014. Looking forward, 61 percent of the businesses responding to the ITRR survey expect to see their visitation increase in 2016.
Initial observations indicate that the decrease in spending may be attributed, in large part, to lower fuel prices. In 2015, spending on gasoline by nonresidents was down 36 percent compared to 2014. With gasoline so inexpensive, people can travel more often and likely took more weekend trips, increasing the total number of visitors to Montana. Additionally, the decrease in the value of the Canadian dollar has contributed to less spending by Montana’s northern neighbors, who typically represent about 14 percent of all nonresident visitors to the state. While they are still visiting Montana, their spending appears to have tapered off over the past year.
All information and reports published by ITRR are available online at http://www.itrr.umt.edu.