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Tourism is a leading industry in Montana and continued its strong economic performance in 2017 supporting over 53,000 jobs. Tourism provides jobs in lodging, restaurants, retail and many indirect positions supporting real estate, construction, architecture and banking. Non-resident visitors spent $3.3 billion according to the preliminary traveler expenditure report from Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research (ITRR).

The year started off strong in the winter with the second highest recorded skier visits with 1.5 million skier days, five of Montana’s 14 ski areas attracted record skier visits. Deep early season snow and increased air service brought more people to the slopes improving Montana’s economy, lodging receipts for the first quarter were at record numbers with 6% increase from the year before based on lodging tax collections.

After the strong winter start an early spring melted valley snow prompting early biking, hiking and fishing opportunities. National park visitation launched at a record pace in Glacier National Park, with June and July setting new records. Yellowstone National Park visitation held steady from its record numbers the year before. One strong performing national park was Little Bighorn Battlefield in eastern Montana with four years of continued growth and a 5% bump from the year before.

By summer temperatures rose and forest fires became an issue that persisted into the fall. ITRR released a report stating that the smoke and fires had a negative impact on tourism spending of $240 million for the year. Fortunately, many visitors still visited and enjoyed Montana activities. In response to the communities impacted with the loss of business revenue due to fires, Montana’s Department of Commerce set up an expedited grant and loan program for small tourism businesses.

In the autumn, most major Montana airports were announcing increased service with new non-stop cities, new airlines and increasing seats and also important infrastructure investments with terminal upgrades and runway improvements.  

“With increasing air service, private industry capital investments and strong statewide and regional marketing programs, Montana has all the ingredients for growth in the visitor economy, said Dax Schieffer, Voices of Montana Tourism Director.  “With these strong fundamentals, I’m very optimistic for the thousands of families and businesses to see continued success in the hospitality sector into 2018.”