Steve Wahrlich, owner of the Best Western Clocktower Inn in Billings, was named Tourism Person of the Year at the 2013 Montana Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation in Helena. Tourism award winners are selected for their outstanding contributions to Montana’s tourism industry.
Wahrlich’s support of the tourism industry in Montana, demonstrated by his dedicated involvement with numerous local and statewide organizations, earned him the honor this year, according to the Montana Office of Tourism.
Wahrlich is a well-respected business leader valued for his commitment and community vision. He has served on numerous tourism-related entities including chair of the board of the Billings Tourism Business Improvement District, president of the Yellowstone County Lodging Association, chair of the Downtown Billings Association, treasurer for the Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association, as well as active involvement in the Billings Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, Voices of Montana Tourism and numerous other nonprofit organizations in the Billings community and beyond.
Since buying the downtown property in 2006, Wahrlich has revitalized and rehabilitated the hotel to become one of the most well-respected and positively reviewed hotels in the Billings area.
“Steve is high-energy, creative and entrepreneurial … (as well as) unselfish in his zeal to invest his time, energy and talents to make (Billings) a better place to live, work, raise a family and visit,” according to nominators.
In 2009, Wahrlich was honored as the Montana Innkeepers Association’s Lodging Person of the Year.
Also honored were the Montana Dragon Boat Festival as Tourism Event of the Year and the Gardiner Gateway Project as Tourism Partnership of the Year.
“The tourism industry in Montana is made up of enterprising and passionate individuals working side by side to strengthen business and build our tourism and hospitality industry into the economic powerhouse that it is,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “My sincere congratulations to these people and partnerships for the exceptional work they are doing on behalf of the state of Montana.”
The dragon boat festival is an ambitious undertaking that provided far reaching rewards for the Flathead Valley as well as Montana on the whole. More than 3,000 volunteer hours went into executing this fresh, unique event that honored our spectacular environment and celebrated the valued natural resources we enjoy and cherish.
More than 3,000 spectators and 1,200 participants from across the country took part in this single day event. Participants hailed from 12 states and two Canadian provinces. The event enjoyed a 97 percent overall approval rating with a similar percentage vowing to return in 2013.
In its inaugural year, the Dragon Boat Festival generated more than $770,000 in economic impact to the surrounding communities. In addition, $75,000 was raised and pledged in support of local area nonprofits.
The Dragon Boat Festival was so popular in its first year that it is expected to almost double in participants with a 46 percent increase in teams entering to race in 2013. To accommodate the increase in size, the event has added an extra day making it a two-day festival which will undoubtedly increase the already significant economic impact the event has had in Montana.
The Gardiner Gateway Project included local, state, federal and non-profit partners working across jurisdictional boundaries to improve one of our most important tourism assets for Montana and for the nation as a whole — the original and only year-round entry into the world’s first national park — Yellowstone National Park.
What began with the relatively simple goals of relieving traffic congestion and improving safety has now grown into a significant economic development enterprise with public safety, visitor experience, historical preservation and community development at its core.
Through thoughtful planning, strategic input and shared resources, the Gardiner Gateway Project will provide economic dividends and community enrichment that will benefit residents and nonresidents for generations to come.
According to the nomination materials, the 15 entities that encompass this alliance “have created a new standard of partnership thus setting a national example of cooperation.”
These awards are presented annually to individuals, events, partnerships and communities whose efforts to promote or develop Montana’s tourism opportunities have preserved or enhanced tourism’s role in Montana’s economy.
A list of previous award winners can be found at travelmontana.state.mt.us/conference/awards.asp. Tourism and recreation is one of Montana’s most vibrant industries. Montana experienced a 13 percent increase in traveler spending last year contributing $3.2 billion to Montana’s economy. This, coupled with a 6 percent growth in tourism jobs, makes the travel and hospitality industry a healthy and growing sector of Montana’s economy.