There were more out-of-state visitors to Montana in 2015, but overall, they spent less money than the previous year, according to a new report from the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. 

Assistant Director Kara Grau provided the preliminary numbers in the report.

“Approximately 11.7 million nonresidents visited Montana in 2015 and spent almost $3.6 billion in the Treasure State, Grau said. “While the number of travelers visiting the state in 2015 increased by almost 8 percent compared to 2014 numbers, the total amount spent by those travelers decreased nearly 8 percent."

When asked why the actual amount of money spent decreased, Grau had a simple explanation.

"We really think that the decrease in gas prices probably contributed to the spending decrease," she said. "This is a big state, and it takes a lot of driving, so with the gas prices being cheaper, people were spending quite a bit less. That's good news, because we think the decrease in gas prices will encourage people to come back to Montana this year."

Grau said gas prices were about 36 percent less in 2015 than in 2014. She added that travel and tourism is a major part of Montana's economy.

"Our preliminary estimates are that out-of-state tourism contributes to nearly $4.9 billion in terms of industry output in the state," she added. "That's obviously a big contributor to all the economic activity we have in the state."

The report from the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research can be found here.