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Nonresident spending was down last year, but this year looks to be a boon

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | September 8, 2021 7:05 AM

Even with the pandemic, 2020 spending was robust in Glacier Country, the annual study by the Institute of Tourism and Recreation at the University of Montana found.

All told, the institute estimated that nonresidents still spent nearly $814 million, despite the region being virtually shut down for a couple of months in the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Glacier National Park, for example, was closed entirely from late March until early June 2020 and the east side never opened in 2020 at all due concerns about spreading the coronavirus on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Overall, nonresident spending amounted to $3.14 billion.

The numbers should be used with caution, the report notes.

“Readers should use caution in comparing the 2020 estimates with those of previous years. Differing methods and alternate data sources warrant caution in making close comparisons or interpretations of changes from 2019 to 2020,” the report cautions.

For example, the research on spending is typically done face-to-face with people. For awhile in 2020, that wasn’t done at all, due to coronavirus concerns.

Having said all that, the institute in 2019 estimated that about 12.6 million nonresidents visited Montana in 2019 and spent around $3.6 billion.

So 2020 may not have been as bad after all, once the state opened up to tourists.

Glacier Country was down about 30% from 2019, or $400 million. In 2019, spending was about $1.2 billion.

This year is looking very robust, Jeremy Sage, economist with the institute said last week. Bed tax collections in the second quarter statewide were 49% higher than 2019 and short-term rentals had 80% occupancy in June and July. Average daily rates were up as well, Sage noted.

Some expenditures stay at the top every year — gas and fuel typically lead the nonresident spending, followed by restaurants and bars.

In 2020, that still held true. In Glacier Country, which include all of the Northwest Montana down to Missoula County, visitors spent an estimated $173 million in restaurants and bars, $123 million in gas and diesel, $105 million in hotels and motels, (an additional $34 million in vacation rentals) and $101 million in groceries and snacks.

Outfitters and guides saw about $70 million and made in Montana products about $51 million.

Retail sales were estimated at $97.4 million.