Montana travel and tourism industry looks to expedite economic recovery

As the travel and tourism industry in Montana takes an economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, industry experts are looking to shift the focus back toward hope and resilience.

This year’s National Travel and Tourism Week, held in May, began nearly 30 years ago. But this year’s message, “The Spirit of Travel,” may come with new meaning as Montana’s industry leaders gather in Helena to explore the future.

“Through every hardship, I find myself in awe of the travel industry’s ability to join together, adapt, and emerge stronger than before,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “This is our toughest challenge yet, but what I’ve seen is that the spirit of travel has not been shattered.”

Tourism and recreation in Montana has grown to become the state’s second largest industry. More than 12 million visitors came to the state in 2018 and spent more than $3.7 billion. That spending supported nearly 45,000 jobs and generated $230 million in state and local taxes.

But visitation has slowed during the pandemic and the industry has taken a direct hit. It may also struggle to find its feet, according to state economists, who say it could take years to fully recover.

Still, industry experts remain optimistic and are looking for ways to expedite the recovery.

“There’s no doubt this has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us in the travel industry, but we see National Travel and Tourism Week as an opportunity to remind our visitors and our residents of the incredible spirit and resiliency of the travel industry and our workforce,” said Racene Friede, president and CEO of Glacier Country Tourism.

“It’s only a matter of time before we all get moving again, and Glacier Country will be more ready than ever to welcome travelers with open arms.”

Next Tuesday, Montana’s tourism industry leaders will gather in Helena to promote the Spirit of Travel. They’ll also work to bring new attention to the role the industry can play in revitalizing the local economy.

All regions of the state will play a part in the recovery, each eager to get the industry back on track.

“Tourism is in our DNA and the visitor economy is the lifeblood of our community,” said Candace Carr Strauss, CEO of Visit Big Sky and the board director for the U.S. Travel Association. “Spending by our visitors is what affords us the ability to live here and the quality of life we have much like so many Montanans.”