Friday Flash 10/15/21

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Reminders/Updates for Our Tourism Partners

Please note there will be no Friday Flash on October 8.

Save the Dates...

  • Tourism Partner Call—This bi-monthly call is dedicated to the six tourism Regions, 16 CVBs, the Montana Tourism Advisory Council 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 Barb Sanem or call her at 406.841.2769. 
    • December 1, 2021
    • January 26, 2022
    • March 23, 2022
    • May 25, 2022
    • July 27, 2022
    • September 28, 2022
    • November 23, 2022
  • October 20, 2021—Region/CVB 1st Quarter FY22 Financial Reports Due
  • November 9 & 10, 2021 (9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. both days)Glacier Country Tourism Summit: Business Insights for Reaching New Heights—Join Glacier Country Tourism, Western Montana's official destination marketing and management organization (DMO), Destination Analysts, Tread Lightly!, Tourism Diversity Matters, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, Job Service Missoula, ABMJ Consulting and Janna Lundquist Consulting for a meeting of the minds.

    Discussion will include travel and tourism trends, diversity, equity and inclusion, responsible motorized recreation messaging, building on your social media, and workforce development and training.

    Come learn how to take advantage of Glacier Country Tourism’s marketing assets to grow and support your business. Our tourism and marketing experts can help you market your business or organization to travelers. There's strength in numbers, after all. For more information or to register, click here
  • January 20, 2022Region/CVB 2nd Quarter FY22 Financial Reports Due
  • February 7, 2022—TAC Meeting 
  • April 20, 2022—Region/CVB 3rd Quarter FY22 Financial Reports Due
  • June 14-15, 2022—TAC Meeting
  • July 20, 2022—Region/CVB 4th Quarter FY22 Financial Reports Due

Staff Update

Welcome Alana Cunningham and Laura Benedict to the Department of Commerce


We are happy to announce that Alana Cunningham has joined the marketing team as our new Graphic Designer.

Alana Cunningham grew up in Chicago and first fell in love with marketing and graphic design at the age of 11 when she learned to code and design MySpace layouts for her friends.

Alana received a B.A. in Social Media Communications and English Writing from Carroll College, and a M.A. in Communication Management and Public Relations from the University of Denver.

In recent years Alana has worked for KTVH TV as an Online Content Producer, the Communications Director for the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce, and most recently the Marketing & Development Director for the Helena Family YMCA. Alana also is the head coach and founding owner of the USA Swimming team, the Helena Dolphins Swim Team, and when she is not coaching, she loves exploring Big Sky Country with her Labrador, Lily, and boyfriend, Will.


We are pleased to announce that Laura Benedict has joined our team and will be working with the Montana Film Office as the Film and Marketing Assistant. 

Laura Benedict grew up in Billings and first tried her hand at film writing in eighth grade. That script didn’t go anywhere, but undeterred, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts with honors in Media and Theatre Arts from Montana State University in Bozeman. For the past ten years, Laura’s professional career has been focused in Tulsa, Oklahoma where she worked in local TV news production. She directed live news coverage ranging from presidential visits to city-wide protest marches to continuous weather coverage of life-threatening tornados and historic floods.

Laura and her husband recently moved back to her home state where her love of film and her passion for all things Montana led to her new role at the Montana Film Office. Laura is excited to be a part of promoting the Treasure state as a filmmaking destination and hopes to help create more opportunities for Montana filmmakers to live and work here at home.

In her spare time (when she’s not watching and endlessly critiquing movies and television) Laura enjoys attending live theater, training her rambunctious puppy Wizard and getting outside to explore and enjoy all the beauty of Big Sky Country. Redesign

A new version of VISITMT.COM launched October 1. This soft launch currently includes seasonal winter content only, but warm season content will be added with the goal of having the site fully complete by the end of the calendar year.

Our user testing of the old site showed that we needed to provide clearer and quicker access to our information on listings and itineraries. The old web site emphasized amazing photos of Montana, which succeeded in inspiring visitors, but did not provide easy access to the information they were seeking.

Our solutions included making the site content more accessible using a visible mega-menu at the top of the web page to give quick access to content, scaling back the use of photos in favor of informative text and adding flight and lodging booking right in the mega-menu.

Tourism Grant Program

2022 Tourism Grant Update

The FY22 Tourism Grant application submissions are currently being evaluated. We anticipate an announcement of the tourism grant awards for this cycle in late November. We encourage you to subscribe to receive email updates from the Department of Commerce for other and future funding opportunities by clicking here. For more information about the Tourism Grant Program, please visit our website at MARKETMT.COM

Our Tourism Grants Make a Big Impact in Montana Communities and Beyond

'MonDak Motorcycle Loop' to wind through Northern Hills—A strategic marketing campaign has been encouraging motorcycle enthusiasts to take advantage of eastern Montana’s wide-open spaces and welcoming towns by traveling the “MonDak Motorcycle Loop,” that will also include stops in the Northern Black Hills, western South Dakota and western North Dakota.

The Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation, Visit Southeast Montana Tourism, and Windfall marketing agency teamed up to create the campaign to promote local tourism destinations and encourage visitors to ride part or all of the route and stop in local communities along the way.

“The MonDak Motorcycle Loop highlights the free-spirited adventures that await travelers in the eastern part of our state and in our neighbor states,” said Beth Epley, executive director of the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation, located in Baker, Montana. “This strategic marketing campaign shows motorcyclists a route to experiencing the unspoiled natural environment of our region, and the charming local destinations and attractions they can find along the way.”

The MonDak Motorcycle Loop spans 560 miles and runs from Alzada to Broadus, to Miles City, to Baker in eastern Montana, and into western North Dakota and western South Dakota. Read more from the Rapid City Journal here

This project was awarded grant funds as part of the Montana Department of Commerce's Eastern Montana Initiative

Made in Montana

Made in Montana Members in the News

New Kitchen Store and Culinary Classroom Opens in BozemanDuring the height of the pandemic last year, Tina Cusker began to notice people were mentally and emotionally struggling without being able to gather or share a meal together. “People build relationships around the table,” Cusker said.

At the time, Cusker was teaching K-12 education at Montana State University and was struggling to work around COVID-19. Teaching during the pandemic was hard, she said. Communicating with students virtually, or in small groups, was challenging.

And after a year of staying home, Cusker was ready for a career change with something that aligned with her favorite pastime: cooking. Cusker and her husband, Brett Cusker, are opening La Cuisine, a kitchen store and culinary classroom that marries her love for cooking with her 30-years’ experience teaching. The Cuskers plan to celebrate the stores’ grand opening at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

La Cuisine offers a variety of kitchen ware and supplies — including many Montana made products — and plans to host weekly cooking classes in a newly renovated commercial-grade kitchen. Read more from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle here

Montana Film Office

MFO Logo

FY22 Big Sky Film Grant

The Montana Film Office is excited to announce that the Fiscal Year 2022 Big Sky Film Grant (BSFG) is open for submissions and will be awarding $1.5 million dollars in grant funds to selected productions!

Applications are being accepted in 3 categories: Feature Film & TV, Resident Filmmaker, and Short-Form Content. 

Visit our BSFG webpage HERE for more details on categories and program details. Before applying, please read the program’s Instructions & Guidelines HERE.  

To be considered for the FY22 BSFG round, please apply by November 1, 2021 – 12:00 a.m., MST.

Applications are accepted via Submittable platform and found on our website HERE.

The BSFG program builds and supports partnerships with filmmakers and production companies with the intention to create Montana film industry jobs. The grant program enhances the marketing efforts of Montana’s tourism regions and advocates for the state’s people, history, and overall quality of life. The BSFG and the Montana Film Office are funded by the 4% Lodging Facility Use Tax - commonly known as the “Bed Tax.”


International News

U.S. to Open border for Fully Vaccinated Canadians in November

Montana’s Canadian border will once again reopen to its neighbors from the north, conditional upon full vaccination, beginning next month.

The Associated Press first reported the decision by the Biden administration Tuesday evening. Montana's senators both praised the decision Wednesday.

The 19-month restriction on nonessential services has sequestered families on either side of the border, squeezed businesses acclimated to foreign travelers and raised the ire of Montana officials, who for months called on Biden to open the northern border with Canada as vaccination rates climbed in the provinces to the north. Read more from the Helena IR here

Outdoor Recreation

Recreation Economy Release

November 9, 2021—8:00 a.m. MST (virtual via Zoom)—Join Recreation Rountable for the release of new 2020 government economic data showing the size and impact of the outdoor recreation industry!

This is the fourth consecutive year that the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis will release information on outdoor recreation's economic impact and how our industry grows jobs and supports the economy at state and national levels.


  • Members of Congress
  • Outdoor recreation industry leaders
  • Administration officials
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis experts
  • State Office of Outdoor Recreation directors

To register for the event, click here

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


BillingsThe Renaissance of Billings, Montana, Has Made it a Hub for Fresh Food, Brew, and Bikes—Situated on the plains of south-central Montana and sprinkled with oil refineries, on paper, Billings doesn’t hold the same appeal as the state’s rugged, mountainous, and notoriously scenic cities like Bozeman and Missoula. However, it turns out that the state’s most populous city (109,843) is called “Montana’s Trailhead” for a reason. Over the last 18 months, more and more remote workers from big cities around the U.S. are discovering its appeal. With its many breweries, creative cuisine, and outdoor recreation offerings, Billings is becoming a hub — and it’s about time.

“I’m 30 minutes from world-class trout streams,” says Nick Steen, chef and general manager at Walkers Grill, which in itself encapsulates all that is surprisingly enticing about Billings. “I can mountain bike all around me. I’m an hour away from skiing. On top of it all, I have an incredible education system for my kid. There’s more culture here, too, because it’s a bigger city than a Bozeman or a Missoula.“

The recent wave of remote workers has begun setting up shop around town – in local coffee shops, breweries, and distilleries. Read more from the Matador Network here

BrowningA Rock Star’s Next Act: Making Montana a Skateboarding Oasis—This is not the Montana where the wealthy are building ski-in and ski-out mansions or refurbishing a trout stream on a new ranch.

Browning is the capital of the Blackfeet Nation, where the rolling, grass-covered high plains collide with a steel-gray wall of snow-dappled mountains on the Rocky Mountain Front just south of the Canadian border.

This is also a new capital of world-class skateboarding, and a nearly 13,000-square-foot, $300,000 skate park called Thunder Park. It was paid for by the Montana Pool Service — a name in reference to the large bowl at the center of a skate park — a foundation funded and operated by Jeff Ament.

Yes, that Jeff Ament — the bass guitarist and a founder of Pearl Jam. He’s seven years into his self-appointed mission to bring high-end skate parks to every city and town in Montana that will have one.

Ament has paid for, or helped pay for, 27 skate parks, most of them in Montana. He has also helped build three on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Three more are planned for reservations in Montana and South Dakota, including one at Wounded Knee. Read more from the New York Times here

EkalakaGrowing Home in Ekalaka—Eastern Montana's Carter County is bucking longtime trends toward population declines in rural plains communities, adding 255 residents according to the 2020 census. How? Oil money, dinosaurs and family.

The first thing to know about this town of a few hundred souls, the only incorporated municipality in a county of 3,300 square miles at Montana’s southeastern corner, is this: Getting here from just about anywhere else is a hell of a drive.

It’s also a heavenly one, at least on a sunny day in late summer. Coming out from Miles City, the location of both the nearest Interstate and the nearest Walmart, a modestly lead-footed driver faces a 75-minute drive east through scrubby bluffs. Then it’s a turn to the south at Baker for the best part: a straight run of state highway that delivers 40 minutes of pitching up and down rolling hills. Perhaps it’s only imagination, but the fields alongside the road seem to grow a touch greener at every crest. Read more from Montana Free Press here


Destination Analysts Update on American Travel Trends & Sentiment—Week of October 4

Americans’ travel marketability continues to gradually recover from the Delta-variant damage but travelers are feeling more financial stress lately and some uncertainty about vaccine protection. Meanwhile, the reopening of the U.S. border to vaccinated international visitors is generating excitement for travel. And with the rash of poorly-behaved passenger incidents on airplanes lately, the concept of a national no-fly list of trouble-making passengers enjoys wide consumer support.

Key Findings

  • Although our indices show that travel marketability continues to gradually improve from the dramatic drop it took during the height of the Delta variant spread, Americans are feeling more financially stressed lately. When describing the current financial position of their household, the percent saying they will have money left to save this month dropped nearly 10 percentage points since September 18th to 56.1%. The percent who feel they will be better off financially a year from now also dropped 10 percentage points in the last 2 weeks, to 38.4%. Only one-third (33.5%) of American travelers report that it is a good time to spend on travel, down from 41.3% in just 2 weeks. Now fewer than half (48.7%) say that leisure travel is a budget priority, down from 55.0%.
  • A combination of the recent Delta-variant surge and seasonality, Americans have slowed their previous rabid demand for travel. With the Covid-19 data making it appear that the peak of the Delta-variant fueled surge is likely over, high concerns about contracting the virus dropped another 4% to 56.4%. The greatest proportion of American travelers believe the pandemic situation will remain the same over the next month (38.6%). Nevertheless, over half (53.6%) of American travelers continue to say that what’s recently happened with the Delta variant makes them less interested in traveling. And while 68.2% of Americans report travel planning or dreaming in the past week, back in June this was at 78.7%. Similarly, while 73.3% remain in a ready-to-travel-state of-mind, this was at 82.8% in June. In the past two weeks, the percent of Americans who report having trips plans in October and November has dropped another 4 percentage points for each month. One perhaps fortunate related impact is the improvement in resident sentiment towards tourism–the percent who don’t want tourists in town has dropped to 38.9% after reaching nearly half in August.
  • Some American travelers are not entirely confident in the protection their COVID vaccines are currently giving them, fueling a strong likelihood for boosters. 52.3% of vaccinated American travelers feel confident or very confident in the protection against COVID-19 their vaccination is providing them; another 34.2% feel somewhat confident. 13.6% of travelers feel varying degrees of “unconfident” in the protection their vaccine is giving them. As such, 67.8% of vaccinated American travelers say they plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster. Also, the recent progress towards COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 has made 32.9% of American travelers more interested in traveling in the next six months (Note: Interestingly, the effect is similar among those who travel with kids and others).
  • The announced reopening of the U.S. border to vaccinated international visitors is generating excitement. Over 30% of all American travelers—and nearly 57% of those who travel internationally—say this announcement makes them more interested in traveling in the next six months.
  • With the rash of poorly-behaved passenger incidents on airplanes lately, the concept of a national no-fly list of trouble-making passengers enjoys wide consumer support, and would even encourage travel. Nearly two-thirds of American travelers would “support” (23.1%) or “strongly support” (40.6%) airlines working together to create a national “no fly” list. In fact, the creation of such a list would make 44.9% more or much more interested in traveling.
  • Politics in play in travel. This week, 18.7% of American travelers say there are places in the U.S. where they feel they wouldn’t be welcome as tourists. 50.6% of these travelers cite political differences as the reason.

Read more from the Destination Analysts report here.

Other News

USTA Travel Confidently Toolkit

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) is providing social media sample posts and creative for their Fall Travel Confidently Campaign. The health and safety of customers is the number one priority of every travel business. This shared viewpoint has brought sectors from across the industry together, working with health and medical experts, to reach collective agreement on a core set of health and safety guidance that the industry may adapt to their businesses.

Though each guidance may be implemented in different ways, each touchpoint is applying consistent enhanced cleanliness measures. A healthy and safe travel experience is a shared responsibility. When travel businesses, residents and travelers all do their part, Americans can Travel Confidently.

Funding Resources

Montana Main Street Planning and Project Grant Now Open!

The application cycle for the Montana Main Street Planning and Project Grant is now open for Montana Main Street member communities. The deadline to apply is December 9, 2021.

Grants are available for Montana Main Street member communities for comprehensive revitalization projects; this includes planning activities like a downtown master plan and project activities like seed money to implement a façade improvement program.

The Montana Main Street Planning and Project Grant application and further information on the program can be found here

If Montana Main Street member communities have questions about potential projects, please contact the Community Development Division at 406.841.2770 or

WHIP Grant Application Period Open

The annual application period is open for the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP), a grant funding program administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The purpose of WHIP is to accomplish large-scale restoration of private and publicly owned high priority wildlife habitats through noxious weed management.

Grant expenditures are limited to herbicide, mechanical, biocontrol and re-seeding treatments, specifically to restore wildlife habitat functions. Grazing management improvements may also be funded through the program to restore native wildlife habitats and reduce susceptibility to noxious weed invasion.

The WHIP webpage includes links to specific instructions for using AmpliFund for WHIP grants (How to Apply for a WHIP grant in AmpliFund) and to the application.

WHIP applications must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on November 23, 2021 to be considered for funding in 2022. If you have questions about applying for a WHIP grant or accessing the application forms, contact Kim Antonick, WHIP coordinator, at or 406.444.7291.

Other Events/Dates to Note

October 17–20, 2021MLHA (Montana Lodging & Hospitality Association) Fall Tourism Conference and Trade Show (Whitefish)—Mark your calendar for the MLHA Fall Conference to be held in Whitefish at both the Grouse Mountain Lodge and The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

The event will kick off with a networking social Sunday, October 17, at 8:00 pm and conclude on Wednesday, October 20 at 10:30 am after the annual membership meeting. The Conference committee has an exciting program planned featuring dynamic speakers addressing relevant topics, a Trade Show showcasing our Allied Partners and a Tuesday evening Awards Banquet. For more information or to register, click here

American Trails Presents Advancing Trails Webinar Series—American Trails brings agencies, trailbuilders, advocates, and volunteers the latest in state-of-the-art information on all aspects of trails and greenways. Our webinars focus on a variety of trail topics, usually applicable to all trail types, with expert presenters. Webinar topics are chosen from current cutting-edge trail topics selected from attendee/presenter suggestions as well as recent popular conference sessions. For more information, visit or click on individual webinar links below. 

Upcoming webinars: