MISSOULA — We’ve all noticed the out-of-state license plates this year, but has tourist season really been any different because of COVID-19?
Officials with Glacier Country Tourism said they knew summer travel would be different this year.
"We technically haven't been marketing Montana. We hit pause on all of our advertising back when this first hit," Glacier Country Tourism President and CEO Racene Friede said. "We certainly were not sure what to anticipate."
Friede said there have been more young families in the state this summer, and they're getting outside more.
They're still calculating exact spending, but she said Montanan's spent $1.1 billion traveling in the state in previous years, and at least anecdotally, that spending hasn't stopped.
At Bob Ward's Sports and Outdoors, things are flying off the shelves. Ryan Corwin, marketing manager, said everything is "just gone."
"It doesn't matter what it's used for, if it's for recreation people want it, and they want it now," Corwin said.
Corwin said people are looking for gear for camping, backpacking, floating, and anything outside.
"Look at the world, we're getting outdoors, and that's really all we can do safely," he said.
He said they've sold about four times more boats than they did last year, and have received more shipments than usual to keep up with demand.
But at Missoula KOA, it's a different story. Owner Laurie Wisby said they lost $100,000 from cancellations early on.
"It's hard not to see all the spots taken, but that's just what it is," Wisby said.
Things picked up in July, but it's still not as busy as last year, and some tent spots are still unused. But Wisby said she thinks things will be back to normal next year.
"I think camping is a thing people do to get away from it all, so I'm optimistic," she said.
Friede said she wouldn’t be surprised if tourist season goes longer this year, with other states having an uncertain future about school and work from home.