Tourism in Montana returning after pandemic slump

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Posted at 6:11 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 12:06:11-04

HELENA — A new report out this month shows estimates of 2021 tourism visitation to Montana, showing the state's tourism industry is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The report from the Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research out of the University of Montana goes on to say that while there was a decline in tourism and spending in 2020 due to COVID-19, there was a noticeable increase in 2021. In fact, the spending in 2021 surpassed that of 2019, while the number of people was a bit lower than in 2019.

When compared to the rest of the country, Montana’s travel industry recovered faster and was not nearly as deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. All in all, nonresident visitors to MT spent an estimated $5.15 billion in the state in 2021.

This is good news, as Montana’s economy depends on out-of-state tourism.

For example, the Montana Historical Society’s new building, The Montana Heritage Center, depends heavily on a bed tax to fund their new building.

Talking with a couple of downtown Helena businesses, 2020 and 2021 were surprisingly good years for some, saying it was the mix of local support with tourism dollars that helped them thrive.

“...because people in our community in particular pivoted hard to supporting our downtown and local small businesses because we wanted to see them succeed and continue to live and thrive,” says Chelsia Rice, Owner at Montana Book Co.

“The locals are terrific, and I feel like we would survive with just local traffic. But tourism is a huge boost,” says Amy Barrett, Co-owner of Lasso The Moon Wonderful Toys.

Where tourism is headed in 2022 is anyone’s guess. On one hand, COVID-19 restrictions continuing to be lifted bodes well for many industries. Then again, rising gas prices could very well impact the distance traveled by out-of-state tourists.