Study shows Glacier, Yellowstone contribute more than $600 million to local economies

Paying for hotels leads tourism spending

By: - June 15, 2021 6:39 pm

Even with a decline in tourism from the pandemic, visitors to Yellowstone National Park spent roughly $444 million in local regions in 2020, and those in Glacier National Park spent an estimated $204 million the same year, according to a new report from the National Park Service.

The report details the economic impact both parks have on the state’s economy and points to a continuing trend in park tourism, which helps drive economic growth in Montana. That spending trickles beyond immediate areas.

In 2020, 3.8 million park visitors to Yellowstone spent the estimated $444 million in local regions while visiting the park, NPS economists said. That supported 6,110 jobs, $194 million in labor income, $326 million in value-added spending and $560 million in economic output to the gateway communities surrounding Yellowstone.

In 2020, 1.7 million park visitors spent the estimated $204 million in the local gateway communities while visiting Glacier. Economists estimated that supported 3,080 jobs and nearly $100 million in labor income, $160 million in value added contributions and boosted the economic output, with $287 million being infused into the gateway economies of Glacier.

Both parks faced a significant decline in total visitor spending, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Glacier had seen year-over-year increases in every year since 2012, except for 2020. The high mark for the park was 2019, which saw visitor spending at $356 million. Yellowstone has been more steady and had some ups and downs for spending. The high point was 2016, which saw tourist spending come in at an estimated $524 million. Just three years prior to that, it had dipped to $382 million.

Paying for hotels led both parks in tourist spending, with 32% for Yellowstone translating to $141 million, while Glacier’s percentage was even higher with 42% of the spending accounting for more than $84 million. Meanwhile Glacier’s other top spending categories were restaurants and transportation, contributing more than $100 million combined. Yellowstone also saw 17% of tourist revenue go to support restaurants, with recreation rounding out the top three with 12%, or $52 million.

Yellowstone supports more than 6,000 jobs, economists pointed out, and much of that is what they attribute to “secondary effects,” businesses or jobs that support other sectors of tourism, like restaurants or hotels. The same is true for Glacier. Economists said that while lodging and restaurants have the most obvious links to the park economy, in both cases for Glacier and Yellowstone, the bulk of the jobs and economic output support secondary jobs. Those provide support not just to the parks or the visitors, but boost the surrounding communities by providing more services and jobs than would normally be in a community of similar size without the park nearby.

The reports for Yellowstone National Park and Glacier can be found here.

The report itself is interactive and lets visitors explore the economic impact of individual parks throughout the country, or gives an overview of the entire park system.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.