TRAVEL COMMUNICATION UPDATES: Check out the latest Western Montana's Glacier Country travel information.

Quarterly Research + Trends Update

Spring 2024 Update Research and Trends

Understanding Trends in Western Montana’s Glacier Country: Insights from Key Data Sources

Research and data analyses are integral to the strategic operations of Western Montana’s Glacier Country. By closely examining trends and visitor behavior, we gain valuable insights that inform our messaging, target audience and media planning, and using this data allows us to be strategic for our 2024 spring campaign.

 In this article, we delve into key data sources and highlight significant findings for the region.

Quarter 3 of this fiscal year (January – March 2024) has seen some shifts in visitation, with much higher numbers of people from our drive market (Montana, Idaho, Washington) and less from those beyond. The following is a selection of trend data for the entire Glacier Country region.

Note: In our data, a visitor comes from more than 50 miles away, spends 2+ hours within the defined destination boundary, and is observed at a defined place of impact. The visitor-to-resident ratio shows the volume of visitors compared to the volume of residents. The higher the number, the more visitors compared to residents.

From a record year in 2022, we have seen a decrease in visitors to our region, mainly in the warm season months. Q3 started strong at 0.47 but fell to 0.28 in March for an overall increase of 1%. Average visitor spending decreased from $260 to $251 for a decrease of 3%. See the chart below.

Visitors were here for outdoor recreation and sports, staying at accommodations, shopping and eating. See the chart below.

The highest share of visitor spending was on food, followed by retail, accommodations, fuel and attractions. See the chart below.

The people who stayed at accommodation businesses were from the Billings, Seattle-Tacoma, Spokane, Portland and Butte-Bozeman areas. See the chart below.

The people who spent the most were from Great Falls ($333), Butte-Bozeman ($262), Spokane ($232), Missoula (this refers to the Glacier Country region) ($178) and Billings ($203). See the charts below.

A final trend report will show the total paid occupancy for vacation rental properties in the Glacier Country region compared to Yellowstone Country, Teton/Jackson, and Coeur d’Alene. This graph reflects similar reports of decreased hotel occupancy in our more urban communities and can be related to overall low snow levels across our region. See the chart below.

Winter Spring 2024 Update Research and Trends

The Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research

Montana's travel and tourism sector is fortunate to have the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR) at the University of Montana as a pivotal resource. Founded in 1987, ITRR has become an indispensable part of the state's tourism landscape. Best known for its comprehensive nonresident travel surveys, the institute offers invaluable insights into visitor demographics, spending patterns, and the overall economic impact of tourism on Montana. Through its research, ITRR plays a critical role in guiding the industry's planning, promotion and management strategies.

The recently published "ITRR Annual Report – 35 years – 1987 – 2022" is a testament to the institute's enduring commitment and contributions to the field. This document encapsulates ITRR's past and present research projects and provides a detailed account of its methodologies and the evolution of its team and goals. Supported by state funding and specialized grants, ITRR also enriches academic research by offering assistantships to graduate students. As ITRR continues to chart a path of innovation and collaboration, its mission remains steadfast in supporting and enhancing Montana's tourism sector. To delve deeper into the wealth of knowledge and research conducted by ITRR and access the comprehensive annual report, we encourage you to visit their website and explore the myriad ways they serve the Montana travel industry.

ITRR website URL:

Annual Report URL:

Fall 2023 Update Research and Trends

Glacier National Park Visitor Trends for June – August 2023

In our continuous effort to monitor what we see on the ground throughout the year, we have done a trend analysis on Glacier National Park for the 2023 summer. The goal is to understand the changing visitor behaviors at Glacier National Park using Zartico's Destination Operating System™. Zartico combines intelligence, analytics and data visualizations with context and strategic input to support Western Montana's Glacier Country’s data-driven decision-making. Zartico used location data to understand visitor behavior and trends in June – August 2023.

While visitation data from Glacier National Park shows that overall visitation was slightly up in June and July this summer, Zartico shows that visitation since 2021 has shifted more toward visitors who live closer to Montana.

That shift in visitation resulted in lower cardholder spend as visitors closer to Montana and the Glacier Country region tend to spend less, with the biggest decrease being in retail sales.

On the national level, Zartico has seen a 4% decrease in visitor share since 2021 at Western national parks. This aligns with research by Deloitte from May 2023 that stated that only 53% of American travelers were planning a road trip in the summer of 2023, compared to 64% in 2022. This left open an opportunity for residents and locals to experience places like national parks that may have felt crowded during the past three years.

The share of visitors observed in Glacier National Park has decreased yearly since the pandemic.

Examining trend data in tandem with actual data, such as visitation numbers, provides a multidimensional view of visitor behavior, allowing for more nuanced and informed decision-making. By overlaying trend data derived from Zartico's location analytics with real-world visitation statistics, Western Montana's Glacier Country can identify patterns and anomalies that may not be apparent when viewing each data set in isolation. This integrative approach enables the development of more effective, data-driven strategies to enhance visitor experience and manage resources efficiently, ensuring the sustainable growth of the tourism sector in Western Montana.

Summer 2023 Update Research and Trends

April to May 2023 Travel Trends in Flathead County

In May we heard from various businesses in Flathead County about how slow business seemed. Wanting to know more, we worked with Zartico to gain insights into what could be influencing the perception that visitation to Flathead County is declining. We looked at 2023 data from April 1 to May 14, comparing it to the same period in 2022.

The top three trends we found were 1) increases in average daily rate (ADR) continue to drive up hotel revenue, concealing decreases in supply and demand; 2) movement trends have changed, shifting back toward outdoor recreation and away from retail, sit-down restaurants and bars; 3) resident spend is down, potentially escalating the feedback that retail and bars are less busy.

  1. Hotel ADR averaged 16.5% higher than in 2022 while occupancy remained flat. Airbnb ADR rose 2% with occupancy down 10%.
  2. Overnight visitation was down 3% with higher visitation participating in outdoor recreation activities over accommodations, transportation and food. We saw increased visitation from Salt Lake City and Denver, but the average visitor spend from Salt Lake City was $64 compared to closer to $200 from Denver, Spokane and other out-of-staters.
  3. Resident spending was down 5.7% compared to visitors from other parts of Montana (+20%) and out-of-state visitors (4.4%) increased. Bars could be feeling extra pressure as resident spending shifted to wine and beer stores and gas station sales were down due to lower prices compared to 2022. (See graph)

Conditions to consider are Western Montana saw a below-average snowfall impacting some snow-dependent activities. With international borders open and the high cost of domestic travel, air passenger enplanements to Europe have met or exceeded 2019 numbers. We will continue monitoring trends in the Flathead and in all 8 of our counties as we saw a cool, rainy start to the summer followed by low water levels in Flathead Lake and the Going-to-the-Sun Road opening earlier than we have seen in many years.

Read the Full Zartico Report on Flathead County

Spring 2023 Update

2022 vs. 2021 regional visitor-to-resident ratio trend data is out. While up 5% overall, most of the increase occurred in the fourth quarter of 2022. (Source: Zartico)

Glacier Country Yearly Average: 38 visitors to 100 residents (up 5% over 2021)

Seasonal Average:

  • January to March – 25 visitors to 100 residents (down 8% over 2021)
  • April to June – 34 visitors to 100 residents (down 8% over 2021)
  • July to September – 50 visitors to 100 residents (down 2% over 2021)
  • October to December – 42 visitors to 100 residents (up 56% over 2021)

Winter 2022 Update

Western Montana's Glacier Country continues to watch data as we track trends. Looking back on 2022, the data continues to paint a picture of visitation leveling out compared to 2020 and 2021. The third and fourth quarters of 2022 saw a small decrease in occupancy for both hotels and short-term rentals. Hotels are down 2% to 3% and short-term rentals are down 1% to 2%. This is important because it shows the number of visitors to Glacier Country is beginning to decrease—even during our peak warm season. An interesting point about this is that while we have fewer visitors, their average daily spending increased by roughly $17—not surprising with overall higher cost of goods and services. We will continue to monitor this, as this trend leads us to believe there is a market correction beginning to occur.