Maybe there’s only so much room in Big Sky Country after all. For the first time ever, the majority of respondents to a survey on tourism say the state is becoming overcrowded because of more tourists and people moving here.
Statewide, 56% of Montanans surveyed late last fall by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research agreed that the state is becoming overcrowded because of more tourists.
That’s the highest number ever since the Institute began doing its annual surveys on tourism in 1992, some 30 years ago.
In Glacier Country, which includes Flathead County, that number was even higher — 70%, according to the survey. Yellowstone Country was even higher still — with 85% that agreed or strongly agreed that the community was getting overcrowded due to tourists.
Many residents also expressed that the level of crowding they currently perceive is the result of people moving to the state in addition to the number of people who simply visit each year.
Having said that, the majority of Montanans statewide surveyed — 71% — said that the positive impacts of tourism outweighed the negative.
That number was 10% lower in Glacier Country, however, where 61% said the benefits of tourism outweighed the negative impacts.
There was a slight gender gap as well, men (74%) were more likely than women (70%) to say that the benefits outweighed the negative impacts.
“Although attitudes towards this question were still overwhelmingly positive with nearly three-quarters of respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement, the overall agreement level of 71% represents a 5% decrease from 2020 and the lowest agreement level recorded since 2007 (71%),” the study noted.
There’s also a growing number of people who say life won’t get better with more tourism.
“Residents were asked if they felt that the quality of life for Montana residents would improve if tourism were to increase in the state. Under 40% of respondents (38%) were in agreement with this statement, the lowest agreement level the Institute has recorded since trend data began in 1992. Conversely, 37% of respondents disagreed with the statement, while 25% of respondents were neutral in their response,” the survey noted.
Covid-19 also had an impact on Montanans’ own travel plans last year.
“Forty-seven percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they were more likely to travel within Montana rather than out-of-state because of Covid-19,” the survey found.
A growing number of people also said the influx of tourists and people moving here was raising concerns, either immediately or into the future.
“Of those who provided some additional comment, the overwhelming sentiment from respondents was that any perceived overcrowding in the state was a result of people moving to Montana, rather than an overcrowding from too many tourists,” the study found.
It noted that the population of the state continues to rise after the pandemic and people were worried about housing and their children’s ability to stay here because of rising housing costs.
“It appears that residents are fully aware of the economic benefits tourism provides, while also recognizing the social cost from which those economic gains are derived. In addition, comments provided by residents also indicate that a portion of the crowding they perceive is not coming solely from tourists, but from the influx of new Montana residents who have moved to the state in recent years – likely as a result of changes brought on from COVID-19,” the study concluded.
The study was done by surveying Montanans at more than 100 gas stations across the state from Nov. 16 to Dec. 31, 2021. The surveys were done with permission from the stations. The results were written by Carter Bermingham, Megan Schultz and Matthew Pettigrew.