Billings tourism rebounds strongly in 2021 after lockdowns expire

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BILLINGS – As the big travel season draws to a close, Billings hoteliers said on Wednesday that room rental rates in 2021 had increased by about 30-40% after the COVID-19 pandemic hit forced a drop in travel in 2020.

“We’ve seen our average fares go up in an area we’ve never been to before. And we saw our occupancy rate skyrocket last summer compared to even 2019, 2018, because people are traveling more after being locked in their homes during the pandemic, ”said Ron Spence, CEO of the Billings Hotel and Convention Center on Wednesday.

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Ron Spence, General Manager of the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

Yellowstone County’s share of the 4% state tax on the price of lodging reflects the increase in the number of travelers to the Billings area.

Yellowstone County saw a 154% increase in tax revenue on lodging from 2020 to 2021, according to data from the Montana Department of Commerce.

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Yellowstone County Lodging Tax

Steve Warlich owns the Best Western Plus Clock Tower Inn in downtown Billings. He said staff have seen their fair share of tourists during the summer, many coming from across the country to stay at the hotel.

“We have been very blessed in this way. In the next three, four or five months, it will be very different, we think. It will go back to being very similar to what it was a year ago. We think we’ll do a little better in terms of occupancy, better in what we call the average daily rate, ”Wahrlich said.

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Steve Wahrlich, owner of the Best Western Plus Clock Tower Inn and Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery.

While the state’s accommodation income figures seem to point in the right direction for Billings, a broader review of tourism in eastern Montana shows a more stagnant picture, Wahrlich said.

“When you look at the cumulative numbers for the year and compare that to 2014, 2015 for Billings, in southeast Montana, to Glendive, basically in the eastern part of the state. We are exactly flat with this income. The prices have gone up. More and more hotels have entered the market not only in Billings, but throughout eastern Montana. So in reality, while it’s nice to see the increase. Believe me, we are all happy. However, the point is, we’re still flat with ’14 and ’15, which means we have fewer people coming to the eastern part of the state, ”Wahrlich said.

Click here to view specific regional information on the Department of Commerce website.

The rate at which the price of a room rebounded to pre-pandemic prices has been faster than expected by many in the industry, Wahrlich said.

“The rates came back much faster than anyone expected. That includes me, that includes the folks from Mariot, Hilton, the big boys. We all missed that the rates would come back. Typically, in a recession, hoteliers lower their rates and it takes four to five years to get back to normal after a recession, ”Wahrlich said.

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The Clock Tower Inn is located at 2511 1st Ave. N in downtown Billings.

The two hoteliers have said by far that Bozeman is the most expensive place in the state to get a hotel room over the summer and likely will be in the future.

“You can go to Bozeman and on any given night pay $ 500 a night for an average hotel room. Here in Billings, where the rates were $ 70, $ 80, $ 90, now you see those rates around 130 $, $ 140, “Spence mentioned.

Spence said the highest price he had heard for a room at Bozeman over the summer was almost $ 1,000 a night.

At the Billings Hotel, Spence said he estimates about 60% of hotel guests are from out of state. He said a lot of people were just getting in the car to drive this summer, choosing hotels as they went.

“They come here because they are trying to get away from the big city. They don’t go to the big amusement parks and the big population centers. We see these people here in our corner of the woods,” said Spence. .

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The Billings Hotel and Convention Center is located in the West End at 1223 Mullowney Ln. in Invoices.

Another downside to the pandemic was that conventions and business travel took a nosedive. If all goes as planned in the coming months and next year, Spence said the Billings Hotel will have a busy convention schedule.

“Right now we see a lot of groups coming back. Our months of October, November, December, January are extremely strong. They’re back in the numbers for 2019, 2018, ”Spence said.

While the Billings Hotel has 231 rooms, the Clock Tower Inn has 125 rooms and caters more to families and small groups. Wahrlich said the hospitality industry as a whole has not seen so many business travelers.

“It used to be mostly 60% business travel, 40% leisure. That has changed. Now it’s actually 70% leisure, 30% business. So that has made a huge difference. , Huge change. International travel probably won’t be back for another two years. Overall, we’re learning to adapt, “Wahrlich said.

After all, COVID-19 is still sweeping the state and the nation and everyone has received their fair share of curve bullets during the pandemic. It is still unclear what will happen in the hospitality industry in the future.

“We see it a little flat next year. We expect people to get used to it. We see people going back to more urban markets and traveling there. And will borders open up to international travel? It will be an interesting element to see. And no one knows it. We have no idea. If I did, I would be in Vegas, ”Wahrlich said.

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Objects found on a nightstand in a newly renovated room inside the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

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