Over 12.4 million nonresident visitors spent $3.5 billion in Montana in 2016, according to a new report just released by the Institute For Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

Institute Director Norma Nickerson said ironically, even though there were more visitors to the state, they spent less than in 2015.

"The $3.5 billion spent is obviously a lot of money, but it's actually down about five percent from 2015, and yet the visitation is up about five percent and I know you're going to ask what's going on, but we really don't have an answer," Nickerson said. "We thought Canadians might not want to come down because our dollar is so strong, but we can't blame that. Gas prices have more or less leveled off, so we're still trying to figure exactly why the spending was down but the visitation was up."

Nickerson speculates on why the amount spent by nonresident visitors has been fluctuating.

"When you look at that average spending which is $148.40, you'd say you could spend that much in one night at a local motel," she said."But, people could be just passing through or staying with a friend, so it brings that average down."

During the first and second quarters of 2016, traveler groups spent an average of $161.39 and $127.49 per day respectively. The first quarter’s $442 million total was up 3 percent from 2015. The second quarter total of $796 million was down 2 percent from 2015.

Nickerson said various state agencies and marketing companies use the data in the report.

"It's used by national forests and state parks to clarify who's coming to Montana, when and why," she said.