BILLINGS – With destinations like Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, it is no surprise that tourism is one of Montana’s leading industries.
But the financial impact of tourism reaches beyond the parks, impacting communities around the state, a Montana tourism advocate said Wednesday in Billings.
“Seven out of 10 people who visit Montana once will come back again,” said Dax Shieffer, director of Voices of Montana Tourism. “When they come back again, that gives a great opportunity for them to spread themselves out, to go visit other communities that might not be as crowded and to have that experience. So there is going to be continued growth if trends stay as they are. ”
Shieffer gave a presentation sponsored by the Billings Chamber of Commerce at the Northern Hotel Wednesday afternoon.
Voice of Montana Tourism is nonprofit group that represents the lodging industry statewide.
In 2017, Montana hosted 12.5 million out-of-state visitors, according to Voices of Montana Tourism. Those visitors spent over $3 billion in the state.
Shieffer said 86 percent of those visiting the state for the first time come for the parks, but the data shows they are coming back again for some of the other experiences the state has to offer.
Billings has been working to become a destination itself, promoting the close proximity to Yellowstone and other outdoor recreation areas, as well as the city’s brewery district and shopping scene.
In Yellowstone County, just over $250 million came in from out-of-state tourism. That money was spent in hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail stores. While those businesses benefit directly, the economic impacts are much larger, as those dollars help to support individuals and other industries in the area, Shieffer said.
In 2017, $400 million came into Yellowstone County from in-state visitors, which means Montana residents traveling 50 miles or more. Those visitors are coming into the Billings area for events, such as concerts or sports tournaments, or even just coming to town to shop.