Montana has always had a love/hate relationship with the tourism industry. 50 years ago when my father was working in tourism promotion, people would tell him "Why do we want to bring more people here?"

Yet even then there were pioneering businesses like Dan Bailey's Fly Shop in Livingston, and the small businesses in Gardiner, or here in Western Montana, recognizing the real economic value of tourist dollars.

Lately, we've been going through another round of the same argument. How much tourism can we handle before locals are chased off their favorite river, or trail? And will we ever be able to compete when our Montana campgrounds and Glacier National Park are run on a reservation basis?

The folks at the heart of tourism planning want to find that balance

Destination Missoula, and the Missoula Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID, are developing a "Destination Stewardship Plan" to encourage "sustainable tourism", while still protecting the Montana lifestyle we love all year 'round.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo

The two groups, with the help of a huge steering committee of local organizations, are collecting feedback from Missoula residents about balancing that "quality of life", with making sure visitors have a good experience too.

We’re focused on preserving the uniqueness of this place we call home while recognizing tourism’s economic benefits,” - Destination Missoula Executive Director Barb Neilan. 

Neilan notes that the organizers behind the effort are Missoulians themselves, and realize how fundamental it is to hear a lot of viewpoints as the plan is developed and implemented over the next 10 years.

And it IS big business

One in 13 jobs in Montana is supported by out-of-state travel, with 12.5 million visitors spending over $ 5 billion last year, generating $ 388 million in taxes. That shifted over $800 in tax burden from Montana households. Over 3700 jobs in Missoula are tied to tourism, generating nearly $ 300 million in total economic impact.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo

You can already offer your comments

The outreach will use both in-person, and virtual town hall meetings, plus focus groups, interviews, and surveys. The effort is being organized with the help of research firms, MMGY NextFactor, Better Destinations, and SMARInsights, who has helped with similar plans elsewhere.

The online surveys have already started. The first in-person town hall meetings will be held at The DoubleTree Hotel next week on May 23 from 5:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. and May 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you'd like lunch, you need to RSVP by Friday.

Join Peter Christian on Talkback Friday morning to hear more from Destination Missoula about the plan.

Here's The Top 10 Tourists Sites For Those Visiting Montana

Montana is known by several nicknames. Big Sky Country, The Treasure State, and the Last Best Place to name just a few. Each year, millions of folks travel to Montana to partake in its beauty, while often seeking adventure in the outdoors. From skiing to rafting, fly fishing, to snowmobiling, Montana can certainly be described as an outdoor paradise.

No matter the season, there is always something to see and do in Montana. Here's a look at The Top 10 Tourists Sites For Those Visiting Montana.

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