MISSOULA, Mont. — A surprising twist to a new tourism survey. Turns out for the first time, more people than not think tourism is overcrowding the state and impacting their quality of life.
Call it a Montana attitude study on tourism.
For the last 30 years, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research has asked questions around the state.
On the list, is the state becoming overcrowded because of tourism? Is it impacting your quality of life?
And for the first time – a troubling twist..
“And actually this this last year, for the first time, we had more people agreeing with that statement that the state coming overcrowded, then disagree with that statement. So that's a bit concerning piece of information coming out this year,” said Jeremy Sage the ITRR interim director.
Few would argue the economic benefit of tourism.
2020 brought in $2.6 billion from out of state spending.
Blame it on the pandemic, or on people visiting and then deciding to move.
“And so for years, we have strongly believed, but I still believe that tourism was a great benefit to the Montana economy and a really strong component of the Montana economy. But there's a shift in that thought right now,” Sage said.
The survey shows while people living near Glacier and Yellowstone understand tourism helps pay the bills, 56% agree the state is overcrowded because of tourists.
That's a 75% increase since 2019.
And it mirrors increased air travel, up 80 percent from 2020 as well as record setting use of Montana's state parks.
“So there's, there's some good messaging that needs to go on, both to Montanans and to visitors about developing and moving forward in this tourism is and will continue to be a major portion of Montana's economy, whether that's outdoor recreation or other forms of tourism,” Sage added.
Since 1992, UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research has conducted annual surveys of Montana residents on their attitudes toward tourism within the state. This study is conducted from October to December to track perceptions of the tourism industry in Montana.
In addition to a standard set of questions about their attitudes toward tourism in 2021, residents were asked about the economic benefits of tourism, travelers and travel behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A large majority of Montanans (71%) still agree that the overall benefits of tourism outweigh the negative impacts. Similarly, more than eight out of 10 residents agree that tourism promotion by the state benefits their communities economically.
When it comes to a sense of overcrowding due to visitors in 2021, residents expressed the highest level of agreement since the start of the annual survey nearly 30 years ago, with 56% of residents agreeing that the state is becoming overcrowded because of more tourists. This is the first time more residents have agreed than disagreed with this statement. When compared to pre-pandemic levels, this represents a 75% increase since 2019. The residents who live closest to Montana’s two national parks had the highest levels of agreement regarding crowding.
For the full report, click here. All ITRR reports are available online here.