Supporting a community-led effort to boost Eastern MT tourism, business

Thursday, October 31, 2019
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Guest Column

As the folks responsible for promoting the vibrant, charming towns and stunning landscapes across our state, we know that Montana’s strong economy is driven in part by a thriving tourism and outdoor recreation economy. We also know that eastern Montana’s unique landscapes, historical and cultural sites, and opportunities for hunting and outdoor recreation are a treasure with untapped potential to support diversification and growth in regional economies.

Over the last year, the Department of Commerce worked with partners to hold 14 listening sessions with tourism and economic development leaders from 23 eastern Montana counties. Together, we dug into the region’s needs, goals and on-the-ground expertise when it comes to showcasing all that eastern Montana has to offer.

What we heard loud and clear is that eastern Montana communities are proactively planning ways to strengthen and diversify their local economies. We also heard that increasing tourism in eastern Montana needs to be part of the equation.

That’s why we are working to advance our shared goals of increasing visitation and strengthening business growth through a community-led collaboration called the Eastern Montana Tourism Partner Initiative.

Driving this initiative is data that shows declining lodging tax collections in the region, increased competition from neighboring states and rural communities that have tremendous potential for growth.

For our part, the Office of Tourism and Business Development at Commerce is investing $1.3 million over two years in promotional marketing, local grants, staff expertise and new research to support the region’s objectives of enhancing marketing efforts and strengthening tourism amenities.

In May, the Department launched targeted, regional marketing campaigns to promote eastern Montana’s diverse landscapes, outdoor recreation opportunities, cultural experiences and family activities.

This campaign transitioned in the fall, when we gave our neighbors in the Dakotas, Saskatchewan and Alberta the chance to visualize their ideal hunting trips with a marketing campaign featuring eastern Montana’s vast upland bird hunting opportunities.

And earlier this month, the Department awarded the first round of long-term investments as part of the initiative. These are grants to eight communities for things like expanding Montana’s dark sky assets to encourage new astrotourism experiences, drawing travelers from near and far to “Live the Sloth Life” at ZooMontana and making it possible for residents and visitors alike to learn more about the Battle of Bear Paw at the Bear Paw Battlefield.

We’re proud to work alongside these communities to enhance regional tourism and economic growth in ways that respect the integrity of the places Montanans love.

Tara Rice is the director of the Montana Department of Commerce and is originally from a ranch north of Choteau, Mont.

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