MISSOULA – Last year 12.5 million visitors contributed nearly $3.4 billion in travel spending, according to a recent report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana. But the 2017 fire season may have stifled the state’s potential gains.
Forty-seven percent – or 5.8 million – of visitors traveled to the state in the third quarter from July through September and spent 52 percent of the $3.4 billion. Travel groups spent an average of $130.75 per day, for a total of $1.7 billion during the summer months.
Yet, it is likely that this figure would have been even higher had it not been for the severe smoke and fire season Montana experienced during 2017.
“ITRR research suggests that Montana may have missed out on up to $240.5 million in visitor spending because of smoke and fires,” said Jeremy Sage, ITRR economist and associate director. “Visitor spending during 2017 was higher than 2016, but it could have been even more impactful if the smoke conditions had not led people to change, shorten or cancel their plans.”
As for the rest of the year, during the first and second quarters of 2017, traveler groups spent an average of $139.70 and $115.64 per day respectively, totaling $389 million and $723 million in spending. Fourth-quarter spending totaled $503 million, with traveler groups spending $127.59 per day on average.
Visitation to Montana was up 1 percent in 2017, according to Kara Grau, ITRR assistant director of economic analysis, and overall spending in the state increased nearly 11 percent. Travelers directly supported nearly $2.8 billion in economic activity for Montana and almost 39,000 state jobs, as well as indirectly supporting an additional $1.9 billion in economic activity and more than 14,500 jobs.