By Ron VandenBoom
Victor Bjornberg, tourism development coordinator for Travel Montana, presented 9.4 million reasons why tourism is important to Montana and the Hi-Line Friday when he addressed the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club.
Bjornberg called the his presentation "Montana Tourism 101" and told the Pachyderms that 9.4 million visitors to the state spent $1.6 billion here last year. About 500,000 of the 9.4 million visitors passed through Havre on their way to Montana's number one tourism attraction Glacier National Park.
Glacier ranges between 1.5-2 million visitors a year, Bjornberg said, and last year's figures stood at 1.7 million. The Little Big Horn Battlefield is the second most popular tourist attraction in the state.
"And that doesn't include multipliers," Bjornberg said concerning the dollars spent. "Tourism is one of Montana's basic industries that helps support and keep our economy going."
Tourism is second only to agriculture as Montana's leading industry, Bjornberg told the crowd noting that an additional $750 million was spent last year by Montanans traveling around the state.
The 9.4 million figure is 10 times the population of Montana and approximately 26,000 jobs are directly supported by tourism. That, according to Travel Montana figures, represents an annual payroll of $395 million.
"That could cover all of the jobs in Hill County for about three years," he told the Pachyderms.
But Bjornberg's point was not so much that 26,000 Montanans benefit from tourism, but that all Montanans benefit either directly or indirectly from tourism from the contractors that build the attractions to health care facilities and gas and oil suppliers.
The largest portion of the tourism dollar, Bjornberg said, is spent in the area of retail sales by people who are looking for items they may not be able to get at home. He used cowboy hats and boots as an example.
While Havre benefits mostly from visitors passing through the area, Fort Benton receives 50,000-80,000 visitors a year and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls attracts about 89,000 per year, Bjornberg said. Fort Peck Reservoir also records more than 400,000 users each year.
Most visitors to this area come just to see wildlife and to do nature photography, Bjornberg said.
Most visitors also come from Minnesota, and about 25 percent come from the Pacific Northwest.
International visitors are a growing portion of the tourism market, Bjornberg said, adding that Travel Montana is working hard to increase Montana's popularity in the European market. Primarily with people from Germany, Holland, and the United Kingdom.
Travel Montana is affiliated with Rocky Mountain International a four-state tourism promotions agency that has offices in London, Belgium, Paris, Milan and the Netherlands.
Rocky Mountain International promotes all four states to its European customers, pointing out the cowboy, Indian, western lifestyle attractiveness associated with the region.
"Europeans don't care whether they are in Montana, Idaho or Wyoming," Bjornberg said. "They are looking for the experience that's available there."
Montana will spend about $2.2 million on TV ads this year to promote the state to the rest of the country, he said. This places Montana about 35th or 36th among states for the amount of money spent on advertising.
Travel Montana is a division of the Montana Department of Commerce.