Tourists spent $73 million in Carbon last year

Carbon County earned over $73.2 million in tourist money last year according to statistics from Mike Garcia, Director of Voices of Montana Tourism. He was speaking at the public meeting at the Elk’s Lodge, Red Lodge, last week. Carbon County was one of 20 counties in Montana to get over $20 million in tourist money.

Also present at the gathering were a panel five representatives from various businesses in Red Lodge who explained the benefits of tourism. They were Rhonda Baker, Branch Manager for First Interstate Bank; Linda Daily owner of Red Lodge Inn and President of TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District); Tom Kuntz, Red Lodge Fire Chief; Ed Williams, Red Lodge Mayor; and Kelley Evans, CEO of the Beartooth Billings Clinic.

In 2013, 11 million visitors to Montana spent $3.62 billion of which $440 million was spent by foreign visitors. The knock on effect of this is that this money directly supported nearly 34,000 jobs statewide that is one in every 9 Montana workers. It generated $236 million in state and local taxes, which is up 10 percent from 2012 and it helped lower taxes on each Montana household by nearly $550, up 9 percent from 2012.

Garcia pointed out that the top five areas tourists spend money on is gas, restaurant/bars, retail sales, groceries/ snacks and hotels/motels.

“Why so successful?” he said. “In the 1980s, non residents were roughly 3 million. Now it is 8 million. We promote the state. You have to advertise. You’ve got to inspire people to come to a destination. Travel and destination promotion is highly competitive, and you need to promote your brand.”

He cited the Bed Tax in the late 1980s as a step in the right direction by helping to create stable funding to promote Montana, even though some 4 percent of this is lost to other state projects.

When asked about their respective businesses, Baker told how tourism increased new accounts, the staffing of an additional teller and more foreign currency transactions than any other branch in the First Interstate Bank family.

Daily talked of the success of the TBID program in Red Lodge, now it its 3rd year, raising $100,000 to promote the town. She also recalled the City reaching the status of Convention Visitor Bureau (CVB), that allows for additional dollars from the state dollars they send in.

Kuntz talked about the ambulance service being partially funded by taxes and user fees from tourists. “Without this we’d not be able to run throughout the year and provide the service we do,” he said.

Williams talked about the Resort Tax and the $10 million collected so far from it to help with improvement projects and the 15 percent tax relief it provides to those who pay real estate tax. “Without it, we’d have to find funding elsewhere,” said Williams.

Evans talked of the 34 percent inc rease in pat ients at the Beartooth Billings Clinic during the tourist season of June, July and August, going over 200 in number. “July is always the highest. December and January are the highest months in the winter but still down 20 percent. Translate this in to dollars and it’s about $250,000 for the tourist months. During July 3-6 we saw 70 patients, a record. Emergency rooms drive the revenues in other departments like the labs, radiology and hospital admissions,” she said.

Kuntz added that all these business elements work together like a house of cards supporting the economy of Red Lodge. “Take away a chunk of 30 percent and it won’t stand up,” he said.

The event was sponsored by the Elk’s Lodge, Yellowstone Country and the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce. Voices of Montana Tourism is a non-profit advocacy group, who champion policies that sustainably grow tourism.

Upcoming Events

  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018 (All day)
    The Red Lodge Carnegie Library will be closed, Feb. 20 in observance of Presidents' Day. It will reopen, Feb. 21.
  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 5:30pm
    Red Lodge Call to Action (RLCTA) meets the third week of each month from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. at Honey's Cafe. Non-partisan and open to all, the purpose of the group is to empower our community to be effective activists on local, state and national issues. The next meeting will be Feb. 20.
  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 24, 2018 - 10:00am
    An Overeaters Anonymous group will meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Grace Fellowship Church, Absarokee.