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COVID harmed Montana’s outdoor leisure economy in 2020, an analysis found | National news

Despite and because of the pandemic, Montana has taken the top spot in the nation due to its reliance on the outdoor leisure economy as part of its gross domestic product.

According to statistics released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Montana’s outdoor economy accounted for 4.3% of the state’s total GDP in 2020, beating long-running Hawaii, which fell to 3.8%.

“I’m curious to see if that holds,” said Jeremy Sage, interim director of the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.


According to the state analysis, Montana’s outdoor industry generated $ 2.23 billion in 2020, up from $ 2.49 billion in 2019. Wyoming fell from $ 1.58 billion to $ 1.24 billion .

Retail sales play a big role in these numbers, Sage pointed out.

“For the country, retail was the largest contributor to US recreational value creation in 2020, at $ 101.9 billion,” according to the BEA. “At the state level, retail was the largest contributor to outdoor value in 35 states.”

Under the previous administration of Governor Steve Bullock, Montana worked to recruit businesses and grow its outdoor recreation economy, establishing the Office of Outdoor Recreation and hiring a director to lead the effort. The website is still active, but clicking the contact button now directs a visitor to a “Business Attractions Manager” in San Jose, California. A call to the Department of Commerce Human Resources Department was not answered in time for this story.

“Our valued public land and many outdoor recreational opportunities go a long way in selling themselves, and the governor is committed to protecting, promoting, and expanding this important industry for the enjoyment of Montans and those who visit our state.” said Brooke Stroyke, communications director for Governor Greg Gianforte, in an email.


Despite its percentage surge above GDP stats over other states, the outdoor recreation industry in Montana took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, as did that of Wyoming.

“This resulted in r -id changes in demand as consumers canceled, restricted or redirected their spending,” according to the BEA report.

In Montana, the outdoor recreation economy declined 0.4% in 2020 compared to 2019. In Wyoming, the g – was wider, down 0.8%.

“Montana did pretty well during the pandemic,” said Sage, also because the drive market in the mountain states is so strong.

Montana has also done well, likely due to urban exodus to states like Montana, said Gregory Gilpin, director of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University.

In the year since the BEA report, Gilpin has found that a lot has changed very quickly. He cited reports that found that Bozeman airport travel set a new record this year and Airbnb demand was high, with homeowners there and in Whitefish charging premium rates.

“I would suggest that tourism in Montana is much more dynamic in 2021 than it is in 2020,” he said.

The question, he said, is how the state will adjust in the future as the economy continues to change in new ways, like the importance of cryptocurrency causing a “gold rush” like economic boom and the loss of nearly 5 million people during the pandemic. some of them decided to retire early.

“That’s a tremendous number of workers missing,” Gilpin said. “We have to find out how we can automate.”

Tourism  -peared to bounce back in Montana in 2021, with travelers becoming less fond of travel following the introduction of the coronavirus vaccine.


Montana’s 2020 drop in outdoor leisure partially reflects a drop in tourism as people stay closer to home amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, as well as the loss of international travelers who have been excluded from the US.

ITRR estimates that Montana tourism declined 12% in 2020 compared to 2019.

With fewer travelers and group sizes limited, outdoor employment also fell – 17.5% in Montana and 24.8% in Wyoming. Hawaii, which is heavily reliant on tourist and air travel, saw the largest decline, with outdoor employment falling 27.2%.


The outdoor industry generated $ 688 billion nationwide and provided 4.3 million jobs, according to the BEA report.

“Despite the pandemic, public land and water closures, canceled trips and trips, restrictions, supply chain issues and more, the outdoor leisure economy is making a huge contribution to the national and local economies,” said Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

Higher boating, fishing, and RV spending was reflected in the BEA statistics at $ 30.8 billion in “current dollar value added.” RVing was also the second largest activity after the “conventional” classification of BEA’s activities across the country. For Wyoming, snow sports were one of the biggest sales drivers with a total of 92.2 million US dollars. Colorado led this category with $ 1.2 billion.

Also, less spending on amusement and water parks, festivals, sporting events and concerts was highlighted. As such organized events and gatherings were either delayed or closed, people began looking for other outdoor activities.

“In 2020, 53% of Americans 6 years and older participated in outdoor recreational activities at least once, the highest participation rate ever,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association. “Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreational activities in 2020 than the year before.”

More people in the outdoors are a double-edged sword, wreaking havoc on facilities like campsites while potentially building a constituency for outdoor issues, Sage noted.

“The question remains how much this phenomenon continues beyond COVID,” he added.

Those who have made a large investment in equipment like a new RV, ski gear, or mountain bike are less likely to give up the activity, Sage said. For others, the outdoors may have been a once-in-a-lifetime activity that was replaced by traveling to the city or abroad when the restrictions wear off.

Late opening

Tourism saw a decline in Montana and Wyoming in 2020, in part due to the delayed opening of Yellowstone National Park due to coronavirus concerns.


Although structured activities like guided rafting tours may have taken a hit in 2020, according to surveys by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, many Montans continue to explore the great outdoors.

So many people were at the campsite that 23% said they couldn’t park in their chosen location. Most found another place, the survey found, while around a quarter chose to go home.

The survey also found that around a third of respondents opted for a new location as traditionally popular outdoor spots with public land became more crowded.

Residents in the Southwest, home to popular spots like Yellowstone National Park and Custer Gallatin National Forest, were more likely to hunt for new places than residents from other regions of the state, which explains the Gallatin County’s license plates seen when taking drift boats to the Hello line.

Given increasing pressures on public land, 61% of citizens said they felt that public land management authorities were under-staffed. That feeling was highest in the state’s Missouri River tourist region and lowest in Glacier Country.

36% of respondents in Yellowstone County noted the increasing importance of computers in travel planning and said they tried to use a public land reservation system, the highest in any region. The first choice of how land managers should communicate with the public was through social media.

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