UM Report: Montanans Collectively Spend Billions on In-State Trips

July 24, 2018

This graphic indicates where Montanans travel for overnight trips.MISSOULA – Montana residents spent nearly $2.87 billion on trips within the state during 2017, according to a new report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

State residents collectively took 13.5 million daytrips and 4 million overnight trips at least 50 miles away from their home in 2017 for leisure, business or other purposes.

Resident daytrips represented more than three times the number of overnight trips, and subsequently more total dollars are spent on daytrips. About $1.66 billion was spent on daytrips and $1.21 billion on overnight trips.

Business daytrips and leisure overnight trips by residents resulted in the highest spending of all trip types. Daytrips and overnight business trips contributed $1.36 billion to travel spending. Leisure trips contributed $1.13 billion to the economy, while other types of trips such as medical, shopping and so forth contributed $374 million.

The highest percentage of all travel dollars were expended in the Glacier and Southwest Montana travel regions, as they represent 50 percent of all resident daytrips and 48 percent of all overnight travel dollars.

“What is interesting is that the western part of the state receives the most dollars from residents traveling there, but Yellowstone County captures 13.2 percent of all resident travel spending, the highest of all counties,” said ITRR Director Norma Nickerson. “Billings accounts for 97 percent of the traveler dollars spent in that county.”

Missoula County, with 503,900 overnight trips and $153,976,000 in spending, is the next highest recipient county of resident travel dollars, followed by Gallatin and Lewis & Clark counties.

“Restaurant and bars make up the highest spending category in each county, outspending gasoline and lodging,” Nickerson said. “Apparently eating out and visiting local breweries is a great excuse to travel at least 50 miles from home.”  

This image reveals trip numbers and dollars spent within each travel region.Results of the ITRR study show that residents’ county of origin to other counties reflects the Montana population. The most-populated counties – Yellowstone, Missoula, Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis & Clark and Flathead – represent the highest percent of visitation to all other counties.

The report looks in detail at the top six counties where residents spent overnights, which also are the most populated counties. If the top outdoor activities from each (scenic driving, day hiking and wildlife watching) are removed, there are interesting differences.

Yellowstone and Cascade counties show the highest percentage of their visitors enjoying recreational shopping, while special dining tops the other four counties.

Going to museums landed in the top eight activities for Gallatin County, viewing art exhibits was in the top eight for Lewis & Clark County, and motor boating emerged in Flathead County.

All six counties also had participation in going to local breweries, with Missoula County having the highest percentage of visitors who indicated a desire to taste the local brews.

Total travel industry spending in Montana was $6.23 billion in 2017. Of that, 54 percent was contributed by nonresidents and 46 percent by resident travel within the state. Nickerson said nonresidents provide economic impact to the state by bringing in new dollars. Residents provide their impact to counties outside their current residence.

The ITRR study surveyed 10,795 Montanans ages 18 and older who were intercepted at gas stations and rest areas throughout the state during 2017 to assess overall trip types and numbers. An additional survey was completed by 1,341 residents who provided more detail into a specific trip within the past month.  

More information on the study is available at All information and reports published by ITRR are available online at


Contact: Norma Nickerson, director, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-2328,; Jeremy Sage, assistant director, 406-243-5552,; ITRR’s Kara Grau or Megan Schultz, 406-243-5685, .