Montana made attracts nonresident visitors, study finds

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The good news – visitation to Montana increased 8 percent in 2015. The bad news – spending was down by the same amount.

Despite the decrease in overall spending by visitors to Montana, however, purchases of “Made in Montana” products increased, suggesting nonresident visitors are interested in buying local items, such as huckleberry jam and Cold Smoke beer, which may be hard to find anywhere else.

The Institute for Tourism and Recreation released the findings of its new survey on Thursday.

“We have a lot of products with that ‘Made in Montana’ sticker on them, and it seems that travelers are interested in buying those items,” said Kara Grau with the Institute for Tourism and Recreation. “We suspected that was the case based on comments and surveys we’ve seen in the past, but it was nice to look at the data in a little more detail than we had before.”

Grau, who serves as the assistant director of economic analysis at the institute, said those who bought local goods and services spent on average $296 each day. Those who didn’t shop locally spent just $112 per day.

To compile the findings, field agents interviewed more than 11,800 nonresident visitors over much of 2015 at random gas stations and rest areas, along with the state’s seven major airports.

“Visitors who made local purchases spent more money in every spending category except gasoline or diesel,” Grau said. “Those who spent more on local products were more likely to be on vacation or visiting friends and relatives.”

Those who spent less were likely passing through the state, Grau said.

According to the study, 16 percent of Montana’s visitors spent money on local products and services during the first three quarters of 2015. The products often included food, such as huckleberry items, baked goods and candy, followed by beer and alcohol made by local distilleries.

“We’ve all seen there’s more and more breweries and distilleries popping up the state,” Grau said. “They’re popular with Montanans, but nonresident visitors are also interested in them.”

While nonresident visitors spent the most on gasoline at $29.82 per day, money spent at restaurants or bars ranked second at $26.72 per day. Hotels ranked third, followed by retail, groceries, outfitters and Made in Montana products.

“It’s not unexpected that people buying local goods and services tend to be on vacation or visiting family and friends, and that they’d spend more than those passing through the state on business,” Grau said. “But it was a wider split than we were expecting to see.”