Residents of Flathead Valley can share their thoughts, concerns and ideas about regional tourism at a tourism town hall on November 4 at Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls. The event, which kicks off at 9 a.m., will be the first in a series of events hosted by Glacier Country Tourism.
The agency’s initiative, Destination Stewardship Strategy, will provide residents of the western Montana tourism region’s eight-county area the opportunity to learn more about a proposed 10-year plan and provide feedback.
The plan aims to create a strategic vision for the Glacier Country visitor economy to ensure its sustainability while preserving the quality of life and quality of place for residents.
Consultants hired by Glacier Country will lead the town hall. Meanwhile, Jim McCaul of MMGY NextFactor and Cathy Ritter of Better Destinations engaged with 75 communities within the tourist region’s boundaries through interviews, focus groups and electronic surveys for residents and industry stakeholders. The results are expected to be released in spring 2022.
To guide developments throughout the process, Glacier Country created a 15-member Steering Committee, including Dylan Boyle of Explore Whitefish, Riley Polumbus of Logan Health and previously Whitefish Mountain Resort, and Aubrie Lorona of Swan Mountain Outfitters.
The collaborative partnership between the tourism branch and key community sectors is part of an ongoing shift from destination marketing and instead aims to manage aging infrastructure, overcrowding and impacts on the local way of life.
The Destination Stewardship Strategy will be developed with input from representatives of key industries, including agriculture and small business, and all residents of the region.
Glacier Country President and CEO Racene Friede said the organization shifted focus towards the onset of the pandemic, when housing affordability and labor shortages exerted a pressure on Western communities due to the influx of Americans looking for great outdoors in Montana.
âIt was a huge change as the pandemic kick started,â Friede said. âSince 1987 we have been marketing the state as a travel destination, but now we want to work with local entities to create an industry that benefits everyone in the future. “
The state-mandated 1987 Sales and Accommodation Facilities Tax (4%), commonly known as the âbed tax,â collects funds that the Commerce Department spends on tourism promotion. However, Glacier Country was one of the first tourism organizations in the United States to dedicate resources to a destination management plan.
âWe are very excited about this new approach,â Friede said. âWe don’t do this just for tourists. Our ultimate customer is the Montana resident.
Participants are invited to register online. For more information and to register, visit glaciermt.com.