Outfitters, guides crucial to travel economy

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(David Reese photo/Montana Living)

Spending on guides increased in 2017

MISSOULA – Expenditures from outfitted and guided experiences contribute to a large amount of the state’s tourism revenue, according to a new report from the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.

            In 2017, spending on outfitters and guides rose to the fourth highest spending category by nonresident visitors to the state, topping out at nearly $374 million, or 11 percent, of all visitor spending. Only fuel, restaurants and lodging outpaced the outfitting and guiding sector.

            Last year, outfitters and guides served more than 700,000 clients, 63 percent of whom were from out of state. These out-of-state visitors not only spent money locally on their hired guides, but also across other sectors of the economy as they dined, slept and drove throughout the state. In total, visitor groups who hired guides spent $791 million.

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            Traditionally, outfitting and guiding in Montana was considered a hunting-, fishing- or rafting-based industry, but in recent years, this definition has become more fully encompassing of the Montana outdoor recreation experience. Not only do visitors hire guides for fishing, hunting and rafting, but also for a wide swath of other activities – from horseback riding to snowmobiling to wildlife viewing and even outdoor education.

            By total number of clients served, rafting-, floating-, canoeing- and kayaking-type activities led the way, with roughly 39 percent of all clients taking part in these water-based trips. Fishing was the next highest client volume activity. By revenue generated from the outfitters and guides, fishing and hunting outfitters stood above all others, with 33 and 24 percent of all outfitting revenues, respectively.

            “The high proportion of total visitor spending represented by those groups who take part in a guided activity is reflective of their group characteristics more generally,” Jeremy Sage, lead author on the study and associate director for the ITRR, said.

“These visitors are more likely than the average visitor to be in Montana for vacation or recreation – 72 percent compared to 36 percent.”

            These visitors spend an average of seven nights in Montana, compared to around five for the typical visitor. Visitors taking guided trips also spend at higher rates than average – $481 per day compared to $128.

            “Visitors want to engage in the recreation opportunities Montana has to offer, and hiring a guide or outfitter is a great way to make a leap into an activity that you may be uncomfortable with, but eager to try,” Sage said.

            The full report is available on the ITRR website at https://bit.ly/2Q4LCJy. All information and reports published by ITRR are online at http://itrr.umt.edu/.

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