Study Tracks Spending Patterns of Montana Visitors

April 25, 2016

MISSOULA – During 2015, an estimated 11.7 million nonresident visitors traveled in Montana. Each year, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana surveys a sampling of these visitors in an effort to provide information about the “who, what, when, where, and why” of their travels.

ITRR recently completed an analysis of this data intended to distinguish high-spending vacationers from lower-spending vacationers. Ideally, it is preferable to have visitors who will spend more while visiting the state, so understanding who has higher spending patterns helps promoters target their market.

The ITRR study observed spending patterns and other characteristics for the high-spending, mid-spending and low-spending vacationers. Total average daily spending per group for each of the three segments was $351, $117 and $45, respectively.

Aside from the obvious differences in amount spent, different patterns of spending between the groups emerged as well. Forty-six percent of the high-spenders’ dollar went to restaurant/bar, guided trips and licenses/entrance fees while 45 percent and 55 percent, respectively, of mid-spenders’ and low-spenders’ dollar went to gasoline/fuel and restaurant/bar.

More importantly, high-spenders spent the greatest share of their daily spending on services and products that are more likely to be locally owned or produced, thereby creating an even higher economic impact due to less leakage of the dollar to out-of-state owners such as happens with purchases of gasoline/fuel.

Gas/fuel is the highest dollar purchase of both mid- and low-spenders, but is the seventh-highest spending category out of 16 categories for high-spenders. The only expenditure category that high-spenders were out-spent in was in campgrounds/RV parks.

Other characteristics of these three vacationer segments include:

  • 56 percent of high-spenders have household incomes of $100,000 or greater compared to 32 percent of mid-spenders and 29 percent of low-spenders.
  • 54 percent of the high-spenders’ nights are in hotels or rented cabins/homes compared to 31 percent of mid-spenders and 15 percent of low-spenders.
  • High-spenders are more likely to be family or extended family groups (35 percent) compared to mid-spenders (25 percent) and low-spenders (18 percent). The most common group type for all three groups, however, was couples.
  • 20 percent of high-spenders flew into Montana whereas 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of mid- and low-spenders flew into the state. In contrast, 21 percent of both mid- and low-spenders drove into Montana with an RV or trailer compared to 9 percent of high-spenders.
  • High-spenders are more likely to hire a guide/outfitter (18 percent), whereas 3 percent of mid- and 4 percent of low-spenders will hire a guide while in Montana.
  • Both mid- (41 percent) and low-spenders (48 percent) were substantially more involved with camping as an activity than high-spenders (28 percent).
  • Group sizes (2.2-2.8 people per group) and length of stay (6-6.7 nights) were very similar between all three groups.
  • There were insubstantial differences in what attracted the travelers to Montana, what activities they participated in or what sites they visited.

Common sense seems to prevail after review of the data. Visitors who spend more money in Montana have higher incomes. They are more likely to fly on their trip. Families visiting the state spend more money in Montana (more mouths to feed, more entrance fees to pay, more individuals to pay for on a guided trip). Mid- and lower-spending visitors who have lower household incomes are more likely to camp while in Montana.

 All information and reports published by ITRR are available online at http://www.itrr.umt.edu

Contact: Norma Nickerson, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-2328, norma.nickerson@umontana.edu; Kara Grau, assistant director of economic analysis, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-5107, kara.grau@umontana.edu.