It’s likely not just out-of-state visitors filling the streets of Columbia Falls this summer, a new report from the University of Montana shows.
Montana residents spent nearly $2.87 billion on in-state trips last year, according to a report from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the university.
Montanans collectively took 13.5 million day trips and 4 million overnight trips at least 50 miles from their home, with travel to areas near Glacier National Park representing one of the most popular destinations.
Northwest Montana accounted for 3.8 million day trips and $469.8 million spent last year, as well as 1.17 million overnight trips for $351 million spent. The region includes Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders counties, with Missoula and Flathead representing the highest travel numbers.
Flathead County alone saw 470,000 day trips and $112.4 million in spending. Overnight travel in Flathead accounted for 322,400 trips and $98.3 million in spending.
Southwest Montana was the second most popular region, with the Yellowstone area coming in after that.
The northwest and southwest regions accounted for 60 percent of all resident day trips and 48 percent of all overnight travel spending.
Scenic driving and day hiking were the two most popular activities for those polled, but ITTR Director Norma Nickerson said food and beer are the biggest areas of spending for those vacationers.
“Restaurant and bars make up the highest spending category in each county, outspending gasoline and lodging,” Nickerson said. “Apparently eating out and visiting local breweries is a great excuse to travel at least 50 miles from home.”
Total travel industry spending in Montana was $6.23 billion last year, with 54 percent of that total coming from nonresidents. While nonresidents provide economic impact to the state by bringing in new dollars, Nickerson said residents help provide impact to counties outside their own.
The study surveyed 10,795 Montanans aged 18 and older at gas stations and rest areas throughout the state last year. An additional survey was completed by more than 1,300 residents to provide more detail.