MISSOULA – Last year, 12.4 million out-of-state visitors contributed over $3.7 billion in travel spending to Montana’s economy, according to a recent report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
The latest report finalizes preliminary estimates from January with new fourth-quarter tourism data. The new data showed that Montana tourism in the summer months generated more than half of the year’s tourism dollars. Forty-six percent, or 5.7 million visitors, traveled to Montana in the third quarter of the year, July through September, and spent 52% of the $3.7 billion. Travel groups spent an average of $156 per day, for a total of $1.9 billion during the summer months.
During the first and second quarters of 2018, traveler groups spent an average of $161 and $135 per day, respectively, totaling $440 million and $853 million in spending. Fourth quarter spending in 2018 totaled $499 million, with traveler groups spending $130 per day on average.
Visitation to Montana was down 1% in 2018, though spending in the state increased nearly 11% overall.
“It’s really a nice overall picture for the year, with the number of travelers holding nearly steady, but we had over a 10 percent increase in what the state’s visitors spent while they were here,” said Kara Grau, ITRR assistant director of economic analysis.
Visitors spend most on fuel, dining out and lodging according to Grau.
“Even travelers just passing through Montana make stops for fuel, food and possibly a night or two as they make their way through the state, not to mention those here for longer vacations, so it’s no surprise that spending on those things always tops the list,” Grau said.
Tourist spending on outfitted and guided activities has increased over the past few years, surpassing retail spending by travelers to become fourth on the list of spending categories.
Grau said this jump can be attributed to a shift in tourists valuing experiences over things.
“We saw a bit of an increase in the proportion of vacationers compared to 2017, along with a decrease in the proportion of travelers in Montana simply passing through,” says Jeremy Sage, ITRR economist and associate director. “That, along with a good 2017-18 ski season, likely bolstered traveler spending during the year.”
In 2018, out-of-state travelers directly supported nearly $3.2 billion in economic activity for Montana and over 43,000 state jobs, as well as indirectly supporting an additional $2.1 billion in economic activity and more than 16,200 jobs.
For more information about 2018 visitor spending estimates, visit