|By Justin Post, The Montana Standard,
ButteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 14, 2010--International markets have substantial opportunity to attract visitors with money to spend, a travel industry spokeswoman said Monday.
The Chinese alone have 50 million travelers, but only a small portion of them are heading to the United States.
"Go after the Chinese visitor," said Patricia Rojas, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association, during at the Montana Economic Development Summit at Montana Tech.
Chinese travelers spend about $7,200 per person per trip, she said.
Speaking as part of a panel discussion on cultivating sustainable tourism, Rojas said U.S. travelers amidst the flagging economy are staying closer to home and visiting less-expensive destinations.
The industry suffered a staggering 8 percent decrease last year, but is expected to log a 6.2 percent increase in 2010.
That number is expected to be even higher in 2011, which Rojas said would be a return to strong tourism in the country.
While more than 50 percent of Americans plan to continue traveling this fall and winter, some 48 million are still undecided about whether to take their next trip.
Victor Bjornberg, Montana's tourism development coordinator, said tourism is one of the state's staple industries with about 10 million non-residents visiting each year.
The state has seen two decades of growth in tourism, but only a slight dip last year.
Montana outpaced other areas of the country hit hard by the recession and logged near-record visitors to Glacier National Park; neighboring Yellowstone National Park saw record visitors.
Sam Korsmoe, executive director of the Madison County Economic Development Council and West Yellowstone Economic Development Inc., said the challenge is drawing visitors throughout the year, not only during the height of the season.
Korsmoe promoted welcoming "visitors" rather than "travelers" or "tourists," a term that some view as having a negative connotation.
Even with cities such as West Yellowstone, he said there are still challenges to draw visitors during the off season.
The challenge of developing a sustainable model, Korsmoe said, is finding links that bring people back year after year.
One such effort that Korsmoe developed is the Madison Marathon atop the Gravelly Mountains, touted as the highest road marathon in the country.
"What do you have that's beautiful, what do you have that's cool and how do you make something out of that?" he said.
He recommended a resort tax to generate revenue to local coffers and for use as a local tool to measure activity and trends.
Jackie Yellowtail, tourism director for the Crow Tribe, said the state should have more input from Indian Country and that the number of visitors to the seven reservations should be more accurately counted.
The Crow Tribe is working to implement a sustainable four-season tourism program that offers skiing, boating, hiking, horseback riding and scenic tours.
"People come to Montana to enjoy the mountains, the flowers, the animals and basically the Big Sky that we all love," Yellowtail said.
-- Reporter Justin Post may be reached at Justin.firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone, 496-5572.
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