Hotel Trends That Have Shaped the Bozeman Area Over The Century

Shawn Vicklund  |   Sunday Sep. 1st, 2019

Bozeman is booming today and is ranked as one of the fastest growing areas of its size in the nation. It has long been a favorite travel destination for Montanans and out-of-state tourists with world-class skiing, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, hiking, hunting and more. Families plan their winter and summer vacations here and business travelers regularly make their way here with the growing tech sector.

A quick drive around town will show you that new construction is everywhere- a sign that Bozeman, and the surrounding area, is continuing to grow. Hotels in the area are on pace to grow exponentially in the next five years bringing over 15 hotel chains and motels for travelers to choose from (as well as bed and breakfast options, Air BnB and the like). But what started this growth? As always, reflecting on the past helps us understand where we are today. A look back over the last century gives us a glimpse into Bozeman’s impressive growth, the obstacles hotel general managers faced along with a sense of pride and community our city has.

Looking Back…
Spending hours at the Gallatin History Museum, I took a nostalgic look back to learn about the history of Bozeman over the last 120+ years. The population in 1891 was 5,000 people, roughly a tenth of what it is today at almost 100,000 in the Gallatin Valley.

Traveling was a way of life in the Old West and hotels grew out of need of pioneer wanderers . Like today, travelers needed a place to eat and sleep but the accommodations were much more simplistic and rustic than what we have today. 

The Guy House, one of Bozeman’s early hotels, opened in Bozeman in 1868. The name was later changed to the Northern Pacific Hotel. Other earlier ones included the log house built by Stafford and Rice in 1864, and the Frazier House (circa 1866). The standard frontier hotel was a log structure with basic room and board; it burned down after only 32 years in business in 1900 during a political parade on Main street (likely from a Roman candle or sky rocket).

Considered Bozeman’s first official hotel, this log house used as a hotel built by Stafford and Rice in 1864 The Guy House, the major hotel in Bozeman, came a few years later in 1868. In an effort to make Bozeman the capital of Montana, citizens decided the city needed a large, respectable hotel, which led to the opening of The Bozeman Hotel in March 1891 (over 120 years ago!). The grand opening attracted 500 people in -15 degree weather, quite a turnout for a city of 5,000. The hotel had 136 guest rooms with call bells, balconies, and steam heat and fire escapes. The cost to build the hotel was $130,000 (source: 1890 Avant Courier). It was elegant and beautiful, especially for its time.

The Baxter Hotel, a historic landmark and a popular venue today, had its grand opening in March 16, 1929.The total cost of the hotel was reported to be $300,000.
The Voss Inn and Range Hotel were also established between 1910-1920 and over the next 60 years, several other hotels were built, including The Best Western Plus GranTree Inn and City Center Motel. Some changed management or even closed. This time period would mark the start of what would turn into the growth we see in Bozeman today with population, technology and economic factors all intersecting together.

How do hotels keep up with the demand and stay relevant today? 
Hotels and venues like the Baxter Hotel and The Best Western GranTree Inn have been able to evolve over the decades, each finding their niche while navigating economic swings, ever-changing technology and competition. 

Carl Solvie, General Manager of the Best Western Plus GranTree Inn for almost 35 years shares his insight into what his property has focused on to stay relevant throughout this technological revolution, the shift to digital, and the ‘new normal’.

Customer Service
The number-one focus is on the customer experience. Delivering best-in-class service down to the smallest detail can determine your success in the hotel industry. From restaurant and food quality, housekeeping services and amenities, the goal is to treat each guest like they are in our home. While this has always been the focus, an extra emphasis has been put on it over the last decade with the introduction of smartphones, review platforms, and the ability to hear the voice of the customer in-person and online. Guests rarely sign a guest book anymore. They leave their comments online and that feedback is critical to every property.

Technology & Digital Revolution 
We’ve come a long way from wandering pioneers looking for room and board. Technology has changed the way guests book their hotel with the ability to book reservations around the world without even talking to a person! You can book through an app, directly with the hotel or even a simple Google search will give you all the options you need. Technology has changed guest’s expectations. Having a strong online presence has been key to staying relevant. Guests are researching online before they book, taking in and considering reviews and other consumer generated content. While a large percentage still prefer to talk to a staff member before they book, online bookings are increasing each year which means that effectively managing your online presence is key. 

Signature Restaurants
Whether you’re traveling for leisure or business, eating while traveling is always a highlight. With over 200 restaurant options in Bozeman, travelers can choose from a wide variety of places to eat. Having options within your hotel or even walking distance is a definite bonus when travelers are looking for a place to stay. The Club Tavern & Grill is located inside the Best Western Plus GranTree Inn and is a draw for hotel travelers and locals alike with a full service menu 365 days a year. Other hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn and Marriot Springhill Suites offer convenient quick-stop style food options. The Farmer’s Daughters is a café style attached to the RSVP motel. Whatever you’re craving on your stay in Bozeman, you have options!

Loyalty Programs 
Rewards programs where guests can earn points for free stays have also been key to driving guest loyalty. Beneficial for frequent travelers, especially those traveling for business. Having a robust loyalty program can encourage guests to book again with you in the future.

Hotel Design
You can find boutique style hotels like the RSVP motel, or renovated and modern hotels like The Best Western Plus GranTree Inn and Residence Inn by Marriott. Hotels with history in Bozeman are continuously making updates to their property to keep up with brand standards and ensure the customer experience. Décor is also important to guests looking for that ‘Montana feel’ when they visit. Fireplaces in the lobby and scenic Montana artwork give guests that comfortable at-home feeling with a modern twist.

Operating a hotel requires staff and in a rapidly growing town, finding and retaining team members is a necessity. With Bozeman also being a college town, recruiting employees looking to start their career in the hospitality industry is a benefit. Many Bozeman area hotels have staff ranging from 20 employees to 150+ employees and need to be properly staffed. Hotel staff are in the front lines and interacting with sometimes hundreds of guests a day. 

Build your hotel culture to reflect an affinity with the local community. Bozeman hotels do this in a variety of ways by partnering with local attractions like The Museum of the Rockies, Karst Stage for Yellowstone Park Tours, The Ellen Theatre, and Bridger Bowl for skiing and even local beer breweries! Many partnerships are year-round to give guests the full Montana experience when traveling through southwest Montana. Look for hotels who have built these partnerships and talk with the staff about local hot spots and attractions.

Going Green
“Eco-friendly hotels” is not just a buzz word, it’s committing to a higher standard of care. Adopting energy-saving practices like swapping out standard incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs, reusing towels and investing in commercial water filtration systems can help your hotel save on electricity costs, lower your hotel’s energy and water consumption, decrease operational costs and drive customer loyalty. Combined, this can help you prepare for a bright future in sustainable tourism.

Mixed Use 
Properties with large banquet rooms for weddings and conference space have been able to keep their mix shift of guests and drive hotel occupancy. The Hotel Baxter has evolved over the years and is now known as a popular wedding site with its vintage, historical and romantic design. Chandeliers and high ceilings allow the venue to be multifunctional and for travelers to experience a special place in Bozeman. The Best Western Plus is known for large gatherings with conference space to hold up to 300 people.

Growth of Breakfast Offerings
 in the 1800s, pioneers could get lodging and food for $2 or a sprinkle of gold dust. Now, full service menus, buffet style breakfasts and room service are the options guests get to choose from. Hotels in the Bozeman area offer a range of specials from discounted breakfasts, free buffet style breakfasts, or even coupons to popular places around town to encourage guests to try some of the delicious breakfast options. 

The Future…
The evolution of the hotel industry over the decades is not only a driving economic factor for Bozeman and the community but for the tourism industry for Montana state. Hotels need to stay relevant. What’s in store for the future? If growth at Bozeman Yellowstone International airport is any indication, more direct flights to Bozeman, plans to double the terminal gates from eight (8) to sixteen (16) including 70,000 square feet to the concourse by 2020 (Explore Big Sky March 4th, 2019), our beautiful town is on track to continue to draw travelers from all around the world. Expect to see continued innovation from hotel properties, growth in amenities and community partnerships for guests to enjoy year-round. People travel to Bozeman to find what can’t be found elsewhere.    

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