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Montana State Park System Visitor Study.

Montana State Park System Visitor Study

Montana's natural environment provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities. The Montana State Park System, which is administered by the Montana Department of Fish, wildlife and Parks (DFWP), consists of sixty natural, cultural, and recreation parks located throughout the state. In addition, the DFWP maintains more than 250 fishing access sites. Each year, the state's parks and fishing access sites attract a considerable number of recreationists and tourists--in 1986, the parks attracted about 4.8 million visitors, according to DFWP estimates.

In 1988, the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research conducted a DFWP-sponsored survey of state park and fishing access site visitors to determine their activities, their attitudes and preferences concerning existing and future facilities, and the expenditures associated with their visit. Those surveyed included both Montanans and out-of-state visitors. The information obtained from the survey was used to estimate the total nonresident expenditures in Montana, and the amount of labor income and the number of jobs attributable to spending by nonresidents.

The survey collected information concerning demographic characteristics, facility preference, and spending patterns of park visitors. As a result, the report describes the "typical" visitor to the various types of parks, including fishing access sites; cultural parks, such as Fort Owen and Bannack; natural parks, such as Makoshika and Wild Horse Island; and recreation parks, such as Placid Lake and Holter Lake.

Non resident expenditures are part of Montana's travel and tourism industry and a component of the state's economic base. These visitors bring new funds into the state, which provide income and employment for Montanans working in the nonresident travel industry. Visitors have many reasons for coming to Montana. The findings of this report suggest that while some may be drawn to Montana for its recreational opportunities, others visit state parks and fishing access sites as an incidental part of their trip. Whatever the reason for visiting in 1988, nonresident visitors spent an estimated $64.2 million in adjacent communities and $29.2 million elsewhere in Montana, for a total of $93.4 million. This translates into about $23.4 million in direct labor income and 2,123 full- and part-time jobs in the nonresident travel and tourism industry.

Profile of Visitors

This section presents the survey results of both residents and nonresidents who visited Montana's state parks and fishing access sites during the 1988 season. One survey objective was to obtain information that can be used to describe typical visitor characteristics. Details of visitors' age, education, income, participation in outdoor activities, experiences at the various locales in Montana, expenditure patterns, and so on, are important for park management. Decision makers may use this information to improve the services and facilities, and to develop marketing strategies.

Personal Characteristics

By Visitor Residence. We will first examine the personal characteristics of the survey respondents, particularly their age, education, and income, to determine how Montanans and out-of-state residents differ. These data are summarized in table 1. For comparison, the corresponding information for all Montana adults is also included.

For the most part, individuals who visited the state parks and fishing access sites tended to be slightly younger that the average Montanan in age. About 44 percent of Montana adults are between age twenty-five and forty-four. By contrast, 60 percent of the resident visitors and 50 percent of nonresident visitors were in this age category.

Resident visitors paralleled the state's adult population in education and income. Sixty percent of them said they have at least some college education, and 34 percent of them reported household incomes of $35,000 or more. Nonresident visitors tended to fall in the higher education and income categories. Compared to all Montanans, a larger proportion of the nonresident visitors attended or graduated from college (72 percent), or had incomes of more than $35,000 (54 percent).

By Park Category. As mentioned earlier, this study focused on visitors to Montana's cultural, natural, and recreation parks. Each of these three state park categories, as well as the fishing access sites maintained by the DFWP, have unique features that attract different types of visitors.

Cultural park visitors were generally older than visitors to natural parks, recreation parks, or fishing access sites (the average age was about fifty for residents and about forty-nine for nonresidents). The average ages of all other groups of visitors were less, ranging from thirty-nine for resident visitors to natural parks to forty-four for nonresident visitors to fishing access sites.

There are no significant differences between park categories in terms of the education levels of resident visitors; roughly 60 percent of all the Montanans visiting natural, cultural, or recreation parks reported at least some college education. For nonresidents, however, there were differences in educational attainment between categories: cultural parks rated first with 81 percent reporting some college education, while the corresponding figures were 70 percent for natural parks and 60 percent for recreation parks.

There were notable differences between resident and nonresident visitors to fishing access sites. Montanans visiting the state's fishing sites were less likely to have some college education or have household incomes of $35,000 or more than were Montanans visiting the other types of parks. In contrast, significantly more nonresident visitors to Montana's fishing sites reported higher income and education levels than resident fishing site visitors. In addition, more out-of-state fishing site visitors reported higher incomes and education levels than was the case for nonresident visitors to Montana's other parks. Since both resident and nonresident fishing site visitors were similar in age, differences in income and education levels suggest that fishing is casual recreation for a cross-section of Montanans, but an "upscale" sport for out-of-state visitors.

Visitation Characteristics

Additional visitation characteristics, such as the proportions of residents and nonresidents visiting each site, the average trip length, and the size of the visiting party, are presented in table 2.

Most visitors to recreation parks and fishing access sites were Montana residents; they outnumbered nonresidents by a margin of three-to-one in the recreation parks and two-to-one in the fishing access sites. For the cultural and natural parks, the proportions of resident and nonresident visitors were about even.

Due to travel distances and the nature of Montana's state parks and fishing access sites, a visit to these destinations may include an overnight stay in surrounding local areas. The survey asked respondents to identify separately the number of days they spent at the actual park and in the local area. The total number of days visitors spent at or near their final destinations is the sum of these two components. In all categories, nonresident visitors spent more total days than resident visitors. For both resident and nonresident visitors, the longest visits were at recreation parks and fishing access sites.

With the exception of recreation parks, nonresidents generally spent more days in the local areas than at the actual park. For example, on visits to cultural and natural parks, more than 75 percent of their time was spent in the local areas. On visits to fishing access sites and recreation parks, it was 56 and 47 percent, respectively. Even residents spent more than half of their time in the local areas when they visited natural parks and fishing access sites. Curiously, the local areas did not attract as many residents who visited cultural and recreation parks, averaging only 36 and 14 percent, respectively. The last observation notwithstanding, the proportion of the total time spent by visitors in adjacent areas underscores the significance of Montana's state parks and fishing access sites to tourist-related businesses in the nearby communities.

Visiting state parks and fishing access sites is typically a group activity. Average group size for resident and nonresident parties was three to four persons.

Recreation Activities

The survey respondents were asked to identify their recreation activities at the park or in the local areas. Table 3 presents the findings for each park category and for fishing access sites. Recreation activities are reported in terms of the percentage of respondents mentioning each activity for each park category. This measure allows the reporting of more than one activity per visit. Preliminary analysis revealed that resident and nonresident visitors engaged in similar types of recreation activities. Their responses were combined and the results were adjustedto correct for the unequal sampling of residents and nonresidents.

The recreation activities reported by respondents were strongly related to the type of park visited. Further, the patterns of activities at cultural parks were similar to those at natural parks, while activities at recreation parks were similar to those at fishing access sites. For example, the three most frequently mentioned activities at cultural and natural parks were sightseeing, visiting scenic or historic attractions, and driving for pleasure. For recreation parks and fishing access sites, the similarly was not quite as striking, but the most frequently mentioned activities at both types included fishing, camping, and sightseeing.

Te responses also suggest that visitors engage in a variety of different activities at the parks. For example, while fishing was naturally the most frequently reported activity at fishing access sites, it was mentioned by only 34 percent of the visitors. In other words, about two-thirds of the visitors to fishing access sites were doing something else, such as camping, day hiking, or nature study.

Among all activities, sightseeing was the only item ranked consistently in the top four by all visitors. Bicycling, driving off-road vehicles or motorcycles, and backpacking were among the recreation activities least mentioned by visitors to Montana's state parks and fishing access sites.

Opinions and Preferences

The survey respondents were asked to indicate the features and services they thought were important for their enjoyment at the park visited. They also indicated which facilities needed improvement. The findings are summarized in tables 4 and 5. Preliminary analysis, once again, revealed that the responses by resident visitors were not notably different from those of nonresident visitors. The findings reported in tables 4 and 5 have been adjusted for the unequal sampling of residents and nonresidents.

There are significant differences between park categories in terms of features and services which the respondents considered important. The two most frequently mentioned items at recreation parks and fishing access sites, for example, were river and lake accessibility and overnight camping availability. On the other hand, paved roads and flush toilets were mentioned most often by natural park visitors, while the availability of water supply and picnic sites were important to most cultural park visitors.

The facilities which the respondents mentioned as needing improvement were clearly related to the type of park they visited. Once again, visitors to recreation parks and fishing access sites shared similar opinions; they considered improvements in restrooms, water supply, picnic tables, and roads as their top priorities. Cultural park visitors said information signs and the availability of other information needed improvement. In all park categories, respondents cited restrooms and water supply availability as items most needing improvement.

The overall level of responses varied between park categories. Recreation parks, for example, had nine items needing improvement that were mentioned by 10 percent or more of the respondents. Natural parks, on the other hand, had only two items mentioned by 10 percent of the respondents.

Expenditures Patterns

Survey respondents were asked to identify three types of expenditures associated with their most recent trip to a state park or fishing access site in Montana: (a) the amount they spent at the final destination, including the immediate local area; (b) the amount they spent while traveling to and from the final destination; and (c^ the amount incurred while they prepared for the trip or paid upon return. These and other survey results on visitation characteristics were used to derive estimates of resident and nonresident visitor expenditures, both in the areas adjacent to the actual parks and elsewhere in Montana.

In Adjacent Areas. Visitor expenditures in the areas adjacent to Montana's parks are summarized in table 6. The amount reported for each item was the average for all resident or nonresident visitors, and therefore does not represent the price actually paid for a particular item.

Resident visitors spent an average of about $7.90 per person per day in the adjacent area. About $1.60 of this was spent on food and groceries, which ranked first among all tupes of expenses. Lodging places, restaurants, and other eating and drinking places were tied for second; each eaveraged about $1 per person per day.

For nonresidents, the average daily total was about $21.20 per person. Compared to residents, they spent more on lodgeing ($4.50) and on visiting restaurants and other eating or drinking places ($3.40). Nonresidents also contributed more than residents to local businesses such as guide services and outfitters, food and grocery stores, and other retail stores at nearby communities.

Elsewhere in Montana. Details of other expenditures, related to visitors' trips to state parks and fishing access sites but spent elsewhere in Montana, are presented in table 7. For residents, these expenditures included the amount they spent while traveling to and from the final destination, as well as costs incurred while they prepared for the trip or paid upon return. For nonresidents, only expenses incurred on route while in Montana are presented.

Since the number of days visitors spent elsewhere in Montana was not available, the amount reported in table 7 is the average per person per trip. for expenditure items that might be independent of the number of trips, the amount reported could, in fact, be the season total--likely candidates include vehicle registrations and, to some extent, sporting equipment. As in the previous table, the average amount for each item may not reflect the price to buyers.

The amount spent by resident visitors was about $70.80, compared to $47.70 by nonresident visitors. The fact that residents outspent nonresidents on items such as food and groceries ($11.50 vs. $3.90), and oil and gas and vehicle services ($15.90 vs $13.30) suggests that resident visitors generally took longer road trips within Montana than out-of-state visitors.

Not unexpectedly, nonresidents paid very little on vehicle registrations and other related fees. They spent relatively more than residents on vehicle rentals, other transportation expenses like airfare and bus fare, as well as entertainment.

Economic Impact

Montana's parks and fishing access sites attract Montanans, out-of-state recreationists, and tourists. Survey respondents included residents from nearly all fifty states, Canada, and other foreign countries. The amount which residents and nonresidents spent on their trips is a measure of the value they attach to the aoutdoor opportunities provided by state parks and fishing access sites. Expenditures by nonresident visitors, moreover, represent a component of Montana's economic base--these visitors brinb into the state new funds that help create jobs and income, particularly in the travel and tourist industries.

As reported earlier in table 2, nonresident visitors generally spent more time in the local areas than at the actual parks, except for recreation parks. This finding suggests that while some of the nonresident visitors are drawn to Montana by outdoor activities, many may come to the state for other reasons, and their visits to state parks and fishing access sites may be incidental or motivated by the proximity of these areas to their destinations. In either case, their visits benefit businesses in nearby communities as they purchase food, lodging, and other items. This section provides an estimate of total nonresident expenditures in Montana and the impact on the regional economies, including direct labor income and employment attributable to out-of-state visitors.

Nonresident Visitation

The first step in calculating total nonresident expenditures was to determine the number of nonresidents visiting Montana's state parks and fishing access sites. Data from two different sources were used, one to estimate the total number of visitors and another to calculate the proportion of resident vs. nonresident visitors. The first source is the DFWP estimates of total visits to the various parks in each of the seven administrative regions. The latest available figures are for 1986; the annual total was about 4,875,000 visits. The second source is the address cards returned by visitors to the Bureau, which provide details about their place of residence. As a group, nonresidents accounted for about 32 percent of DFWP park and fishing site visitors.

Based on 1986 data, there were about 1,560,000 nonresident visits (4,875,000 x 32 percent = 1,560,000) to the state parks and fishing access sites. Nonresidents totaled about 1,022,000 visits to state parks and about 538,000 visits to fishing access sites.

From the survey, Bureau researchers found that nonresidents visiting state parks typically stayed about 2.4 days at the actual area. (The duration of stay varied between the three state park categories; see table 2 for details.) Given the lack of overnight accommodations at most parks and other visition characteristics, it is assumed that nonresidents enter these areas once each day. This factor is used to convert visits into trips. When the estimated number of 1,022,000 visits to state parks is divided by 2.4, it yields a total of about 426,000 trips. Survey respondents who visited Montana's fishing access sites averaged about 2.9 days at the actual site (see table 2). Based on the estimated number of 538,000 visits, the number of trips made by nonresidents was about 186,000 (538,000 / 2.9 = 186,000).

Nonresident Expenditures

Total expenditures by nonresident visitors consist of two components: the amount they spent in the areas adjacent to the state parks and fishing access sites, and the amount they spent elsewhere in Montana. Each component is derived by multiplying the per trip spending by the total number of trips taken by nonresidents.

Table 6 indicates that nonresident visitors spent an average $21.20 per person per day in the adjacent areas. The number of days these visitors stayed at the actual parks and in the local areas varied between park categories (see table 2); the average for all parks was about 4.95 days. Based on these survey findings, the average amount nonresidents spent per trip in the adjacent areas was about $105 ($21.20 x 4.95 = $105). Visitors to state parks spent a total of about $44.7 million ($105 x 426,000 = $44.7 million) in 1988. The total amount spent by fishing access site visitors was about $19.5 million ($105 x 186,000 = $19.5 million). In other words, nonresident visitors brought in an estimated $64.2 million ($44.7 + $19.5 = $64.2) to the businesses near state parks and fishing access sites.

Elsewhere in Montana, nonresident visitors spent an average $47.70 per trip while traveling to and from state parks or fishing access sites (see table 7). Assuming that each nonresident made one trip to Montana in 1988, the total amount they spent was about $29.2 million ($47.70 x [426,000 + 186,000] = $29.2 million).

The two components of nonresident expenditures total about $93.4 million. Using the survey results on the expenditure patterns in adjacent areas and elsewhere in Montana, (see tables 6 and 7), we can estimate the distribution of nonresident expenditures. With the exception of the three travel- and transportation-related expenses (i.e., travel or tour "package," gas and oil and vehicle services, and other transportation expenses like airfare, bus fare, etc.), these figures show that nonresident expenditures were largely at businesses located in the areas adjacent to the state parks and fishing access sites.

Based on the statewide total, major recipients of the nonresident visitors' "tourist" money include lodging places ($17.8 million), restaurants and other eating or drinking places ($14.1 million), and gas and oil and vehicle services ($14.0 million).

Income and Employment

Attributable to

Nonresident Visitors

Only about 25 percent of the nonresident expenditures end up as direct labor income for Montanans. Direct labor income attributable to nonresident spending in Montana totaled about $23.4 million ($93.4 x 25 percent).

Alternatively, the economic impact of nonresidents visiting the state parks and fishing access sites can be expressed in terms of the number of jobs supported by nonresident spending in the state. Using an estimated average annual income of $11,000 for individuals working in the nonresident travel and tourism industry, the amount of direct labor income derived above translates into about 2,123 full- and part-time jobs in the nonresident travel and tourism industry.

Paul E. Polzin is director, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of Montana, and professor of management in UM's School of Business Administration. Tat P. Fong is a research associate in the Bureau.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Polzin, Paul E.; Fong, Tat P.
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1989
Previous Article:Keeping Montana consumers happy.
Next Article:Montana's growing market segments.

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