Out of state tourism was down in 2020 as expected due to the pandemic, but the steady stream of out of state visitors throughout the year enabled the travel and tourism industry to keep its head above water.

University of Montana Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research Assistant Director Kara Grau provided details from a report released on Tuesday.

“Things in January through March of 2020 were looking really great,” began Grau. “We had good visitation, and spending by travelers was higher than it had been the previous first quarter in 2019. But then things of course, kind of shut down as the pandemic hit. The Canadian border closed and travel restrictions were put in place.”

Grau said visitation was definitely down, but not out in Montana.

“For the year our estimate is that travelers who came into Montana spent about $3.2 billion” she said. “Spending was down from 2019 by about 16%. The number of travelers was down about 12% from 2019, but we still had a little over 11 million non resident visitors in the state though for the year.”

As the year went on, Grau said tourism and visitation began to pick up even more.

“All of us are probably aware that despite the pandemic, we had a pretty busy travel season last year,” she said. “The third quarter was only down about four or five percent in 2020 compared to 2019. In terms of both the number of travelers and the money that they spent while they were here, the fourth quarter was down as well, at about the 12% range, but it wasn't down as much as we thought it might be, either.”

Grau said things could have been much worse in 2020.

“It could have been a lot worse, I think,” she said. “We're seeing already first quarter 2021 there are a lot of visitors out at our state parks and national parks. There's a lot of outdoor recreation happening already in this early part of the travel season. So I think it won't be unexpected if we regain those losses this year. In addition, we're right back where we were in terms of level of visitation and spending by our visitors.”

Read the entire report here.


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