There's still more work to do, but one of the initial findings from a new study is that out-of-state tourists don't see differences between Missoula and Bozeman, even though we do.

Destination Missoula leaders say that presents a marketing opportunity as the plan is enacted next year.

The stewardship plan being developed by Destination Missoula and the Missoula Business Tourism Improvement District aims to find not only new ways to market Missoula but also how to achieve a "sustainable" level of tourism local people can support.

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The effort is entering its second round this week, with the completion of a resident survey focusing on that stewardship role, and two important town hall meetings. However, the early findings are some unexpected points. Executive Director Barb Neiman says the national assessment is finding out-of-state tourists don't really see a difference from Montana's two most competitive cities.

"So on the national basis, people don't see Bozeman and Missoula as being very different communities at all."

That's considerably different than residents of the two cities. Especially during football season.

"Right," Neilan agrees. "Montanans very definitely. We know that we're very different communities and we have very different things to offer, right? And so that was kind of a wake-up for us."

Locals appreciate tourists

Locally, the surveys are showing Missoula residents very accepting of tourism and its huge economic impact. Researchers at the University of Montana found 12.5 million visitors to Montana brought in an estimated $5.8 billion in economic activity. In Missoula County alone, more than 4200 jobs are tied to tourism.

"What came back to us out of the first half of that survey was that people still see the benefit outweighing the detriment in Missoula. Which is a wonderful thing, because it really does show that people in general are happy with what it does for the economy and for the community," Neilan notes.

As long as everyone is on their best behavior to protect what we love

"Of course, you're hearing a little bit of the things of, you know, we want people to take care of our community. Those kinds of things. You expect that. But even our consultants were kind of like, 'Oh my goodness, this is very unusual' and we're thrilled to see it." 

Those town hall meetings are at the Fairfield Inn tonight from 5:30 to 7, and Wednesday from 11:30 to 1 and public comment is more than welcome. And there's still one more week to take the community survey at the Destination Missoula website.

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