Friday Flash 12/4/2020

Friday Flash Banner
Winter Storm

Reminders/Updates for our Tourism Partners

Marketing Method Evaluation/End-of-Year Reporting Must be Completed by the January 1, 2021 Deadline! 

Our thanks goes out to the Regions and CVBs for their time and attention given to the required marketing method evaluation reporting that is due in three weeks. This important work is always time-consuming and given the unusual past several months associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is even more challenging. We recognize this and are equally dedicated to assisting the organizations in reaching success in the accurate, complete and timely reporting.

By now organizations should have submitted initial reporting and follow-up responses. As a reminder, the marketing method evaluation reporting for each previous fiscal year is reviewed by MOTBD staff and the Tourism Advisory Council per statute with the process being completed by January 1 of each year.

Resources and assistance are available and best practices are continually identified and shared. Visit the Tourism Regions, CVBs and Partners Resources page for updated resources and Marketing Method Evaluation documents including template language that may be customized for each organization.


Montana Aware Toolkit

Montana Aware is a statewide effort designed to help Montana's tourism partners and local businesses slow the spread of COVID-19 by promoting safety measures for those traveling in the state. You can find the downloadable toolkit and other resources at MARKETMT.COM

As part of the CARES Tourism Safety Grant program, our Tourism Regions and CVBs have utilized funds to distribute information in fun and creative ways in their efforts to keep Montana residents and visitors safe as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Below are some examples of the work that our partners are doing. 

Montana Aware Badge

Big Sky

Posters incorporating the Montana Aware safety and recreate responsibility messaging distributed to local businesses throughout Big Sky. 

Big Sky


Livingston's Masked Hero program promotes safe, responsible, and respectful travel behaviors with incentives to promote smart health practices during the pandemic.

Gift cards and safety swag will be given out to Masked Heroes at 75 participating businesses that have heavy visitor and customer traffic. 

COVID-19 Relief Funding

Transparency Dashboard Updated Weekly

The state of Montana's dynamic dashboard shows the Coronavirus Relief Fund grants that have been awarded to businesses and nonprofits. This dashboard is being updated regularly until all grant dollars have been expended. 

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 30 from Destination Analysts

Candace Strauss (Big Sky) was one of the featured panelists for this week's in-depth analysis of winter recreation and ski industries. To watch the full presentation and panel discussion, click here

Nearly 14% of Americans report they took a trip for Thanksgiving 2020. Although government-imposed restrictions and virus anxieties are acting as a depressant on travel sentiment right now, 44% of American travelers agree they are taking a major vacation after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and Americans’ Destination Hot List is looking nearly identical to pre-pandemic times.

Key Findings to Know: 

  • Nearly 14% of American travelers report that they took a Thanksgiving trip. Nearly one-in-five Americans say they plan to take a Christmas holiday trip.
  • In terms of how Americans are feeling about the virus, many emotions remain largely unchanged, with anxieties about personally or loved ones’ contracting the virus and the pandemic’s impact on personal and national economics in an elevated but stable period that have not reached the peak levels seen during the two prior surges in March and July.
  • Such concerns are still impacting Americans’ current travel marketability. Americans’ openness to travel inspiration has been on a steady decline since October 18th and fully half of American travelers say they have lost their interest in traveling for the time being.
  • The focus of some recent news stories on pandemic behaviors in specific travel destinations is also acting as a sentiment depressant. In the past month, 35.8% of Americans report they have seen one or more COVID-19 related reports in the media about travel destinations where people were behaving in a manner that would make them feel uncomfortable visiting.
  • While a majority agree with new/reinstituted travel and other COVID related restrictions and agree it’s important people follow them, these restrictions are achieving their intention to deter travel right now.
  • Still, the worst of this latest surge’s impact on travel behavior may be passing or at least be in a temporary reprieve. The percent of American travelers who report they have cancelled or postponed any upcoming leisure trips because of the recent increases in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has dropped to 38.1% from 47.4% two weeks ago, and now 56.3% say recent increases in COVID-19 cases around the country have made them less likely to travel in the next three months–down from 62.8% in the same period.
  • Reports of vaccine developments also continue to provide Americans hope about their travel future. Over 44.2% agree that their “first trip after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available will be a vacation, likely to a place far from my home.”
  • This week 80% of American travelers have at least tentative trip plans for the future. The pandemic clearly still weighs heavy, with confidence travel can be done safely, easy cancellation policies and relaxation the top motivational attributes for taking a trip.
  • However, when asked where they most want to travel to in the next 12 months, the Hot List looks nearly identical to pre-pandemic, with Florida, New York, California, Hawaii and Las Vegas coming out on top.
  • COVID-19 testing will likely remain part of American travel behaviors for the near future.

Read more from the Destination Analysts report here. To see the findings from the week of November 23, click here

Save the Dates...

  • Tourism Partner Call—This bi-monthly call is dedicated to the six tourism Regions, 18 CVBs and specific industry stakeholders. The calls are held on the fourth Wednesday, every other month from 10:00-11:00 a.m. For assistance or information regarding this call, please contact Kev Campbell or call her at 406.438.7011. 
    • January 27, 2021
    • March 24, 2021
    • May 26, 2021
    • July 28, 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    • November 24, 2021
  • December 30, 2020—Final Day for Tourism Safety Grant Expenditures
  • January 1, 2021—Region/CVB Marketing Method Evaluation Reports Due
  • January 20, 2021—Region/CVB 2nd Quarter Financial Reports Due 
  • February 8-9, 2021TAC Meeting 
  • April 20, 2021—Region/CVB 3rd Quarter Financial Reports Due 
  • June 14-15, 2021TAC Meeting 
  • July 20, 2021—Region/CVB 4th Quarter Financial Reports Due 

Tourism Grant Program

2021 Tourism Grant Application Update

The 2021 Tourism Grant application cycle closed at 5:00 p.m. on November 30. The applications will be evaluated by a review team comprised of staff members from the Industry Services & Outreach Bureau, the Office of Indian Country Economic Development, and Community Development Division as well as two members of the Montana Tourism Advisory Council.

Applications are reviewed and scored based on the following:

  1. How well the applicant would market the proposed project upon completion to measure the impact to non-resident visitors.
  2. Proposed projects that are identified by the community as key tourism development projects in a community, strategic, or tourism/recreational plan.
  3. Proposed projects that are supported by tourism and community partners.

Other factors that may affect the success of an application or the amount of a potential award is the frequency of previous grants to an organization/entity or the amount of previous grants to a community. A high-level of concentration is also given to rural communities, under-served regions of Montana, and to tribal communities.

We anticipate making an announcement of 2021 awarded tourism grants by late January. We encourage you to subscribe to receive email updates from the Department of Commerce for other and future funding opportunities by clicking here.

Made in Montana

Choose Local

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we encourage you to support your local businesses when possible. If you are interested in locally sourced ingredients, check out this list of our Taste our Place members and savor Montana flavor. You can also find Made in Montana producers and retailers in your area by visiting   

MIM Members in the News

Tumblewood Teas—Made in Montana Member Tumblewood Teas Brings Manufacturing Back Home to Montana, One Tea Tumbler at a TimeIt all began over a cup of tea. In fact, it was many, many cups of tea before Riza Gilpin, founder and co-owner of Tumblewood Teas in Big Timber, Montana, decided to make her favorite comfort ritual her life’s work.

Tea has always been a part of my life,” Riza says. “Ever since I was very young, and always throughout my life, I thought I would do something with tea.” But it wasn’t until after Riza visited friends in Montana 25 years ago and fell in love with the state “at first breath” that she would get into the tea business full-time. In 2009, Made in Montana member Tumblewood Teas began from Riza’s home.

The “grass roots” approach was utilized as a marketing model by serving samples of her teas at local venues such as the Livingston Farmer’s Market, the Big Timber Women’s Bazaar, and the Chokecherry Festival in Lewistown. She then began introducing the idea of offering a higher quality tea experience to area restaurants and resorts such as Chico Hot Springs of Pray, Montana; they became the first to jump on board to make Tumblewood Teas their signature tea supplier. To read the full story from the Montana Department of Commerce, click here and to read the story from KTVH, click here

Alpen Fuel—Bozeman Man Starts Manufacturing Backpacking Food After COVID LayoffWhen longtime Bozeman resident Shaun Durkee started Alpen Fuel in the fall of 2018, it was an online storefront selling high-quality, nutritious backpacking food from small brands Durkee couldn’t find in big stores.

When COVID-19 hit this spring and Durkee was laid off from his job of nine years, he and his wife Emily decided to go all in on Alpen Fuel. It was intimidating, Durkee said, but his years of working as materials manager for a local optics company gave him the know-how to take on the challenge. “We knew that if we were going to go full time with it, we really had to scale it beyond just carrying other peoples’ products,” he said. “So we decided that we would give it a go and go all in on our own products and on the brand.” Read more from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle here

Red Ants Pants—Red Ants Pants Represents Montana in National Small Business Holiday Gift GuideMontana will be represented in the inaugural Small Business Majority's Holiday Gift Guide by Sarah Calhoun's business Red Ants Pants of White Sulphur Springs.

"It's an honor for sure, and I'm glad that we're able to participate," said Calhoun. "I'm really appreciative that these types of programs are putting some emphasis on small business. It's exactly what we all need."

Small Business Majority is a national organization that seeks to empower entrepreneurs to build a "thriving and inclusive economy." Its holiday gift guide highlights small businesses from across the country in an effort to encourage shoppers to support local entrepreneurs that are negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more from the Great Falls Tribune here

Group Tour Marketing

Leads from NTA vTREX Event Now Available

The National Tour Association converted their 2020 annual face-to-face convention to a virtual event vTREX was held in November and Kim Birrell represented Montana. She met virtually with about 17 tour operators from the US and Canada. Although most tour business was cancelled in 2020 or rescheduled for 2021, many tour operators remain optimistic and are looking for new itineraries and unique product to entice travelers. To request leads or get more information, contact Kim Birrell

Outdoor Recreation

Montana Access Project Path Ahead Webinar Series:

December 8, 2020 (11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.)—Outdoor Recreation for Rural Prosperity: USDA Approach and Grants in Action in Lincoln, MT—In this next webinar, panelists will discuss USDA's support for rural communities seeking to develop and sustain a vital outdoor recreation economy; how the RDBG grant works on the ground in Lincoln, MT. For more information or to register for this webinar, click here

The Economics of Outdoor Recreation 

New data release shows outdoor recreation accounted for 4.7% of Montana’s economy last year, while the initial chilling effect brought on by COVID-19 may prove to be a boon. Outdoor recreation is not only intrinsic to the Montana lifestyle, it is also one of the most crucial parts of the state’s economy, a point that was again underscored in a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which listed the Treasure State as a top contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product in revenue generated by outdoor activities.

According to the report released last week, the outdoor recreation economy accounted for $459.8 billion of the country’s national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, or 2.1%. Combined with new data from 2018, the burgeoning industry’s two-year contribution to the country’s economic output is $788 billion, supporting 5.2 million jobs.

The new BEA data don’t include analysis of the outsized impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the outdoor recreation industry, which suffered as stores and manufacturing plants shut down and national and state parks closed or adjusted operations. In May, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked the industry as the second most affected by the coronavirus-inducted downturn, behind the food and accommodations sector, according to Lise Aangeenbrug of the Outdoor Industry Association. Read more from the Flathead Beacon here

Data: State Parks in Montana See Huge Increase in Visitors

If it felt like state parks such as Milltown, Placid Lake and Frenchtown Pond were unusually crowded this summer, you weren't imagining things.

The 10 state parks in the Missoula-headquartered Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 2 saw a combined 421,000 visitors through September of this year, compared to 288,000 in the same time period last year. That's a 46.2% increase, the highest jump of any of the regions in the Montana State Parks system. "Those are just insane numbers," explained Loren Flynn, the FWP regional park manager. "We've never seen anything like that. We have 10 parks in our region, and every park saw an increase. I was really proud of our staff that did their best to provide service given the crazy circumstances." 

Nearly 66,000 people visited Milltown State Park this summer, a 105% increase over last year. And 20,000 of those visitors came in July alone. Read more from the Missoulian here

Montana in the News
Tourism Partner Shout-Outs, Recognition and News

MontanaIt’s Official: Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority Forms, Eyes Southern Route—A dozen participating counties spanning Montana from east to west officially formed the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority on Tuesday and plan to hold their first meeting in the coming weeks.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said 12 counties will serve as founding members of the startup authority, which looks to restore passenger rail service to the state’s southern tier. It’s the first such rail authority ever established in Montana. “It’s a done deal,” Strohmaier said on Wednesday morning. “We have the first passenger rail authority in the state of Montana formed.” The authority’s official formation culminates an effort that began last October when Strohmaier went to work on the concept. Missoula County adopted a draft resolution in the spring and shopped it around to the 24 counties poised along the southern route.

Dawson County in eastern Montana was the first to join and Powell County was the last. The authority now has counties representing urban centers and rural communities stretching from the Idaho border to North Dakota. Read more from KPAX here

Red LodgeRed Lodge Mountain Opens Ski Season with Pandemic Precautions—Wynstin and Maclain Olson had a new piece of ski gear this season — masks. But new COVID-19 precautions didn’t dampen the Billings kids' enthusiasm for the coming ski season as they arrived at Red Lodge Mountain with their dad, Casey, on Friday. The Olsons were picking up their season passes and catching a couple runs — “kind of a warm up for the legs and get ready for the season,” Casey Olson said. It was the first day of the season at the mountain, and business was brisk; the lower parking lot was quickly filling in the morning.

It has been a fairly busy opening day,” assistant general manager Spencer Weimar said. “This one was the most unsure I was about how an opening day was going to go…I was pleasantly surprised.” It will be a unique season. Red Lodge and other ski areas across the country have changed how they operate to cope with the pandemic. At Red Lodge, the crowded lodge and personal ski lockers are out. Instead, skiers and snowboarders are being asked to use their vehicle as a base camp, capacity is limited in the mountain’s indoor facilities, and locker rooms are closed. Face coverings are required indoors, around lifts, in outdoor lines, and during lessons. Read more from the Billings Gazette here

Other News

How US Border Destinations are Faring with COVID-19's Impact

Until the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world we knew, cross-border travel along our Canadian and Mexican borders had been a way of everyday modern life. In addition to the important cultural contributions, this travel was quite a significant contributor to the US economy. In 2019, of the 79.3 million international visitors to the United States, 20.7 million were from Canada and 18.1 million were from Mexico, representing $20.6 and $17.6 billion in spending in the U.S. As coronavirus cases surged in April however, the United States, Mexican and Canadian governments agreed to limit all non-essential travel across borders. As of this week, this order has been extended until December 21st.

To more deeply understand the impact of the border restrictions and what we can learn about the resumption of international travel, Destination Analysts’ Senior Research Director, Myha Gallagher, led a discussion with four DMO professionals from border destinations on what they’re currently seeing in their destinations and what they expect for the future. To read the key takeaways or watch the full discussion from Destination Analysts, click here

Funding Resources

Montana Main Street Program Grant Application Cycle Opens Tuesday, December 8, 2020!

The Montana Main Street Program awards grant funding to member communities on a competitive basis and as funding allows. Applications are evaluated by the Department of Commerce in the order that they are received and grants will be awarded on a continual basis until all funds are allocated. 

Funding can be used to address long range community planning and revitalization needs as well as more specific prioritized projects. Priority will be given to projects that demonstrate the implementation of larger community vision and goals or as they relate to previous or concurrent larger planning efforts (such as a downtown revitalization plan, growth policy, historic preservation plan, etc.). For more information or to apply, click here

If you have questions regarding the application process or guidelines, please contact our office to work with a Community Development Division team member at 406.841.2770 or by email at

Workforce Recovery Program

The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) Workforce Recovery program is designed to support Montana businesses that had to lay-off employees and/or reduce the hours of the employee to part-time status due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Commerce will reimburse Montana businesses based on the growth of jobs up to pre COVID-19 levels.

The Workforce Recovery program will reimburse a business for the wages of full-time, permanent jobs that are created and retained for at least six months, up to a maximum of 25 jobs per business. Businesses apply directly to the program. A reimbursement of up to $7,500 per job is available to businesses in high-poverty counties. The business must match $3,750 per job. A reimbursement of up to $5,000 per job, with a $5,000 match, is available for businesses in all other counties.

Please reference the guidelines for further information on the program. Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis until funding is exhausted or December 31, 2020, whichever comes first. For more information or to apply, click here

FWP Recreation Grant Program Application Cycle Now Open

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is now accepting grant applications for four recreation grant programs via the online system at

Applications for the following grant programs are due by Monday, February 1, 2021:

  • New! Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program
  • New! Summer Motorized Trail Pass Grant Program
  • Recreational Trails Program
  • Off-Highway Vehicle Grant Program

FWP is offering virtual training sessions for prospective applicants from October through January. These sessions are free and highly recommended for new and returning applicants to any of the four grant programs. During the training, FWP staff will provide tips on writing a competitive application, using the grant management software to submit an application, and understanding differences and similarities between programs. Online trainings via Zoom will be held on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, December 8, 2020: 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 7, 2021: 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

For more information on attending a grant application training session or applying to one of these opportunities, visit STATEPARKS.MT.GOV/RECREATION.  

Other Dates/Events to Note

January 11-February 28, 2021—Cultural Heritage Tourism Certificate Program (Online)—The Professional Certificate Program in Cultural Heritage Tourism, produced by AIANTA (American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association) in partnership with the George Washington University, is designed to provide tourism entrepreneurs and community leaders with tools to identify assets and develop tourism programs that preserve cultural identity and authenticity.

The online program brings together industry experts who help students explore the importance of including authentic Native American cultural experiences in their tourism planning.

Courses include narrated presentations, live webinars, online discussions and practical tools and resources participants can apply in their day-to-day experiences planning tourism programs. for more information, click here

February 1-2, 2021—Economic Outlook Seminar (Virtual)—For the first time, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana will host its 46th annual Economic Outlook Seminar event, “The Path Forward, How Covid-19 Has Reshaped the Economy,” via video conference. The seminar will include two nationally recognized keynote speakers, and multiple networking and discussion opportunities with local speakers, panelists and fellow attendees.

This two-day virtual event will take place February 1-2, 2021 and will examine the myths and realities of how the economic landscape has been reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information or to register, click here