Despite a smoke-filled summer, researchers from the University of Montana say that 2017 was actually a good year for the travel industry.
While almost 80 percent of businesses in northwestern Montana say they were affected by wildfires and smoke last summer, those same businesses raked in more than a billion dollars from out-of-state visitors.
Norma Nickerson, director of the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreational Research, presented those findings at 2018 Economic Outlook Seminar in Kalispell Tuesday.
"The length of stay that our visitors were staying in Montana, despite these fires, is about a third of a day longer," said Nickerson. "And when you stay longer you spend more money because you’re here longer. So, we’re seeing about an 8 percent increase in spending this past year."
Nickerson says public lands across Montana continue to fuel local economies, with Yellowstone and Glacier National Park improving upon record-breaking visitation trends last year. Glacier hit a milestone hosting more than one million visitors in a single month last July, and Whitefish Mountain Resort had its best season on record last winter.
National forecasts are predicting a two percent increase in leisure travel for 2018, but Montana tourism businesses aren’t too optimistic. Less than half, or 47 percent, say they expect to see an increase over last year, one of the lowest optimism rates since the Great Recession.