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Travel and tourism in Western Montana.

Favorable economic conditions, good marketing, and an excellent product combined to make 1990 the best year yet for Montana's travel and tourism industry. The Institute for Tourism and Recreation estimates 5.5 million nonresidents visited Montana last year, an increase of about 8.5 percent over 1989. Most 1990 visitors (about 5.1 million) entered the state via private vehicles.

Statewide, nonresident enplanements at Montana's seven major airports were down slightly, by about 0.6 percent over 1989 figures. However, Glacier International, Butte, and Bozeman airports bucked the trend. Enplanements rose for those sites in 1990. Amtrack deboardings were up 4 percent over 1989.

Nonresident skier days at the state's major resorts grew by nearly 10 percent in 1990. This hefty increase was due to a highly effective marketing program, excellent snow conditions in Montana, and relatively poor snow conditions elsewhere at the start of the season.

But summer was the Montana recreation and tourism industry's best season. Nationally, person-trips grew by 3 percent from 1989 to 1990. In Montana, both non-resident highway traffic and accommodations tax revenue increased an estimated 13 percent from summer quarter 1989 to summer quarter 1990.

Once they got here, visitors to Montana spent a fair amount of money. Preliminary estimates for 1990 nonresident expenditures suggest a total of $725 milion, up about 10 percent over the two year period 1988-1990.

Uncertainties in the 1991 Forecast

Both the recession and Persian Gulf War cloud Montana's 1991 travel and tourism forecast. Historically, a troubled economy tends to limit tourism and recreational pursuits. Continuing uncertainty in the Gulf may push gas prices higher and further pinch travel.

Over the last recession (1981 to 1982), the number of person-trips decreased by about 7 percent at the national level. Long-distance vacation person-trips decreased by about 5.5 percent, while weekend vacation person-trips decreased over 16 percent. Interestingly, travelers not only tended to combine business and vacation trips, but trip distances and lengths increased during the recessionary period.

For Montana during the same recessionary period, nonresident highway traffic declined an estimated 4.7 percent, while air traffic increased somewhat. Visits to Glacier and Yellowstone Parks declined between 6 and 7 percent.

Experience in the 1970s suggests that travelers are more influenced by gasoline availability than price, and that price tends to affect the number of short distance recreation trips more than long distance vacations.


If the war can be resolved quickly and the recession is mild and short, we expect Montana's 1991 travel and tourism industry to grow by about 5 percent in 1991. With continuing armed conflict and/or a deeper recession, the outlook could change dramatically. Increases in trip length -- as typified in the previous recession -- and flexible marketing could help mitigate a downturn or slowed growth for the industry.

Steve McCool is director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, The University of Montana.
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Author:McCool, Steve
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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