There’s nothing quite like taking a travel adventure. The excitement and anticipation before leaving is sometimes unbearable. Short trips, long trips; they all get you out of your routine, something we all need. But have you ever really thought about how important your trip is, not just to you, but the communities you travel to, and even the community members you interact with?

I have been fortunate to be involved with tourism for over 20 years. Currently, I am the executive director for ZooMontana in Billings, and serve as both the Chair of Visit Southeast Montana’s Board of Directors and as a member of the state’s Tourism Advisory Council. Thanks to my various roles, I get an inside glimpse at how tourism betters your quality of life.

Let’s start with the numbers. In 2019 alone, 12.6 million nonresidents visited Montana, spending over $3 billion. In return, this generates over $200 million in tax revenue and lowers your household taxes by over $500. Incredibly, this spending directly supports over 40,000 jobs in Montana.*Source, ITRR

Montana also benefits from our size, meaning in-state travel is an economic driver too. Visitors from other Montana communities to Yellowstone County brought $300 million in spending in 2018 – another major impact to our regional economy. Whether it is riding bikes along the Rimrocks, exploring museums and galleries, fossil hunting, skiing, or fishing – Montana has something for everyone, especially those of us who are fortunate to call it home.

Numbers do not lie, and this data is strong. However, for me personally, the true impact of tourism is strongest on the personal level. Every day, I personally interact with tourists of all types. I speak to folks from out of the country, out of state and from the next town over. Every person I speak with has a smile on their face. They are away from work, with their families, and simply enjoying the day.

At ZooMontana, there is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a child light up when they touch an animal for the first time. These types of interactions have always been important, but perhaps now more than ever, the lifetime memories tourism creates also carry great importance for mental health.

Cultural attractions such as the Zoo, Moss Mansion Historic House and Museum, Western Heritage Center, Yellowstone County Museum, Yellowstone Art Museum, DanWalt Gardens, or Wise Wonders Science and Discovery Museum, to name just a few, not only provide tourists a reason to visit our great city, they better our resident’s quality of life. Members of these organizations have pride in their hometown amenities, giving them a sense of belonging, a gathering place, and a family destination.

As with supporting any cultural venue, a visit to ZooMontana serves a larger purpose. Guest spending provides care for over 100 animals of 56 different species as well as conservation efforts and educational opportunities. Every visitor through the gates of a cultural or entertainment venue deeply impacts that organization’s ability to carry out its mission and strengthens the cultural fabric of the Billings community.

In the end, let’s not forget the 40,000+ people who make tourism possible in Montana. Hospitality industry employees, destination marketers and managers like Visit Billings, influencers, front line workers; the list goes on.

These dedicated individuals are your neighbors, family, and friends, each of whom are working tirelessly every day to benefit you, our community, and our state. This all has a trickledown effect that ultimately leads to you.

During this COVID crisis, these folks need your support more than ever. Help them help you by wearing your masks, supporting their business, and above all, giving them a simple thank you. Our economy and livelihood rely on it.

The mission of Visit Billings is to generate room nights for lodging facilities in the city of Billings by effectively marketing our region as a preferred travel destination.

Visit Billings is managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.