With summer travel around the corner, many Ninth District businesses hope they can improve on 2012’s good-to-great tourism year, according to data from state tourism offices and university research centers in district states.
District states that track visitors or lodging stays reported 2012 increases across the board (see chart, at bottom). Gains were larger in Montana and especially North Dakota, where total visitors increased by 7 percent. South Dakota did not publish annual figures for visitors or spending change over the previous year, but reported that state park visitation last summer was up by 8 percent. North Dakota saw the same trend, with national park visitation there up 13 percent last year. Canadian border crossings were also up 8 percent.
States that track visitor spending saw it increase faster than visitor numbers. Wisconsin tourism spending grew by almost 5 percent last year, while Montana tourists were feeling particularly flush, spending 15 percent more in 2012 than the previous year. While Minnesota’s total lodging demand increased by 1.4 percent, total lodging revenue rose by 3.7 percent.
Higher visitor spending has been a consistent trend for several years, as tourists have found their wallets again after the recession. In Wisconsin, visitor spending has grown by 25 percent since 2009, to $10.4 billion. Montana has seen even stronger spending growth (40 percent) over the same period. However, the state experienced a steep downturn in visitor spending from 2007 to 2009, and last year’s $3.2 billion in spending finally reached above the state’s previous peak ($3.1 billion) in 2007.
Some positive early signs for the 2013 season are already evident. Early projections in Montana for the 2013 season were pegged at 2 percent growth of nonresident visits, and a 4 percent increase in spending. In Minnesota, lodging demand grew by 4.3 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2012.