Severe Flooding and Gas Prices Could Hamper Tourism in MT

Young People After Vacation Spare Time Concept. Tiny Characters Men and Women Watching Photo Album, Take Out Clothes and Souvenirs from Suitcase. Memory, Photography, Trip. Cartoon Vector Illustration

Photo by: Dennis Bragg photoUM report from May

MISSOULA – After the question of safety and recovery, the big puzzle on the mind of Montana’s businesses is what happens to our critical tourism industry with flooding and skyrocketing gas prices.

It’s a question no one expected to face in what should have been a “normal” tourism season.

The spring report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana was filled with good news in May. The Treasure State hadn’t thrived but survived two years of COVID-19.

“Our tourism visitation spending did not decrease nearly as much as a lot of areas, so we were at an advantage in that regard,” UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research researcher Kara Grau explained to MTN News this week.

Grau says some of that $5-billion in business last year was driven by a huge interest in travelers to enjoy Montana’s wide-open spaces. Some by higher prices.

“Because we did have quite a bit of demand, so the price of accommodations was higher. Rental car availability was an issue, so that was expensive. So things were costing a bit more.”

Still, a 12% increase from 2020 was good news, with predictions for a more even season in 2022.

“I don’t think any of us expected things to continue on that same steep upward trajectory,” Grau said. “I don’t think that’s something that we would reasonably expect to see multiple years in a row, so we knew that we wouldn’t see such high spending and such overcrowding of some areas.”

However, trouble signs showed up in May, with visits to Yellowstone and Glacier down and tourism businesses blaming the slow start on gas and near-winter weather. But it all fell apart this week with the floods closing Yellowstone and its’ gateway communities. Grau says everyone’s first thought is safety and concern. Secondly, puzzled over what is happening now. Statewide.

“You know, in an average year, about half of our visitors say they stop at Yellowstone. So, if those folks are having to cancel their trips, that’s a very big impact on the region.”

Of course, to the state as a whole, and absolutely to those communities.

And will $5-plus fuel kill what tourism is left? Research and past experience suggest “no,” with in-state tourism may be making up the difference. But the Institute is surveying residents to find out.

Read the rest of the story here. KPAX 8


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