Bozeman: The not so sleepy Rocky Mountain town

Morgan Solomon  |  Friday May. 30th, 2014

Although it is hard for born and raised Bozemanites to say it aloud, Montana’s best kept secret is not a secret any more.

It hasn’t been hard to see that Bozeman has been expanding in just about every direction; from the first pavement that was laid down on 19th about 15 years ago to the increasing variability of the people coming to live, go to school, and vacation here.

According to the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR), Bozeman has held an average of 350,000 tourists per year after lawmakers authorized the implementation of resort tax and lodging taxes 4 years ago. This is 100,000 more than 2010. This exponential expansion of Bozeman, and the increase in the number of those wanting to reside and visit here raises the question, how did our city become so exposed?

One could say that Bozeman was destined to be a tourist town. The city’s central location to the Yellowstone Club, Big Sky Ski Resort, Bridger Bowl, Yellowstone National Park, Montana’s largest city, Billings, and its reputation for outdoor activities makes it an inevitable tourist town. But what about the recent jump in visitor numbers? Some say the reason for this sudden increase lies in recent efforts to provide means to market for tourists and develop easier access to Bozeman.

“We have been marketing for a long time but it wasn’t until the 2009 to 2010 year that we were able to collect tax and use it for planning ways to bring tourists in,” said Daryl Schliem, the President/CEO of the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce.

The tax that is provided for promoting and enabling tourism comes from lodging and resort taxes. Every year there is a regional meeting to create a marketing plan for the area. In other words, a deliberation of how to distribute the previous years’ tax revenue. In the Bozeman area, much of this money has been put towards the Bozeman Yellowstone International airport.

“Our airport is the busiest in Montana. There has been a 45 percent increase in the amount of people coming through the airport in the past 4 years,” said Schliem.

Besides air transportation, construction of I-90 through Montana was finished in the mid-1980s, providing the ability to travel quickly and easily throughout the state.

This increase in tourist traffic has encouraged the use of passive-aggressive bumper stickers, such as “Get Lost” and “Montana Sucks — Now go home and tell all your friends” suggesting that many Montana residents don’t care for the increase in tourism. However, ITRR reported that 84 percent of Montana residents believe that the benefits of tourism outweigh the negative impacts. Such benefits include providing local entrepreneurs with business and a solid customer basis.

“Most of my business comes from tourists. Women will take a break from the ski hill or hiking to do a little shopping,” said Jeanne Arnold the owner of the downtown jewelry store, Silver Annie’s.

Others, seemingly wouldn’t be in business at all if it wasn’t for the high traffic of tourists that come through the area.

“We do business with about 50 percent tourists and 50 percent part-time residents,” said Alissa Banks the owner of the downtown A. Banks Gallery that specializes in selling and displaying Western art.

Banks also believes that Bozeman is gaining a new reputation, encouraging more people to visit and come to Bozeman for reasons other than the outdoors.
“I think Bozeman’s new reputation for being a hip and artsy community is also drawing people into Bozeman,” said Banks.

The Art Walk, Sweet Pea festival, play readings at Bozeman Public Library, and poetry slams held at local coffee shops such as Wild Joe’s, are all events that provide evidence for Bozeman’s recent reach into the art community.

ITRR also reported 66 percent of those surveyed in Montana last year believed that if tourism were to increase, the overall quality of life would improve for Montana residents. In 2010, Montana received 10.5 million visitors bringing in $2.5 billion in revenue for the state. Every year since 2010 Montana has increased the amount of tourists coming to visit by 2 percent, with 2013 gaining yet another record holding number of 11 million visitors. That number brought in just over $3.2 billion dollars of revenue to the state supporting over 29,000 jobs.

In fact, this just might happen in our lifetime. In a talk with Mark Allen on KMMS, Schliem stated that the one thing we are lacking is an international connection to our airport. Yet, we are still seeing many international travelers pass through Bozeman.

“The international market is the one that is untapped, and I think we are seeing more and more of them with Yellowstone being in our backyard,” stated Schliem.
ITRR attributes this to Montana’s reputation for being uncrowded and for having wide open landscapes.

“I come here to relax. Even if Bozeman is becoming more of a city, there is something about being able to drive out of the center of town and be pretty much in the middle of no man’s land,” said Amanda Patterson, a native of Colorado who has been coming to Bozeman since she was 14 years old. “I do have to say though, I am seeing a lot more people on the hiking trails than I would like to.”

About the Author(s)