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Next month, communities across the nation, including Billings, will celebrate the 28th Annual National Tourism and Travel Week. According to the U.S. Travel Association, direct spending by domestic and international travelers generated $704 billion in the nation's economy in 2009. The travel industry is a crucial piece of America's economic puzzle as it also represents one of the largest employers, accounting for more than 10 million direct and indirect jobs. Here's a different point of view to consider: Direct spending by resident and international travelers in the U.S. averages $1.9 billion a day, $80 million an hour, $1.3 million a minute and $22,300 a second.

In Montana, tourism is equally as important to businesses and the health of local economies across the state. In fact, tourism is one of Montana's top industries. More than ten million visitors traveled to Montana last year, which equals eleven new customers per Montana resident for Main Street businesses. That is ten times Montana's population and those visitors spend money! In 2009, people traveling to Montana spent $2.3 billion, and we can't forget the fact that tourism and recreation- based businesses support 25,500 Montana jobs.

Here in Billings, tourism is big business as well. Not only is Montana's Trailhead an affordable destination providing added value to the visitor, but the community's proximity to locations such as the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Pompey's Pillar, the Beartooth Scenic Byway and Yellowstone National Park add to the success and attractiveness as a destination. Even with challenging economic times, Billings' tourism is strong. The geographic position of the city helps Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) staff and our tourism partners maximize on the "staycation" trend. The trend in "staycations" is positive for Billings as many visitors are regional and 69% are repeat visitors. As people choose to "explore their own backyard," Billings benefits from its proximity to notable attractions, excellent event offerings and our general advantage in shopping and dining options. This is an exciting time for Billings' tourism. Tourism matters to Billings, it helps with the area's economic diversification, and it's also exciting to be able to share the great quality of life offered here. Your Billings Chamber/CVB Board and staff work hard all year round to attract and recruit people to town for business trips, leisure weekends or full blown weeks of site seeing. Billings is Montana's Trailhead.

Be proud of our destination, Billings. Help celebrate Tourism and Travel week May 7 - 15, 2011, which is a nationwide salute to travel and tourism in America. Drop by the Billings Visitors Information Center, 815 South 27th Street, to see how the Chamber/CVB assists this top industry. You, too, can take advantage of the great services available to area visitors. The Chamber/CVB staff also encourages you to check out the top notch Billings: Montana's Trailhead video at www.visitbillings.com as well as the facebook page: facebook.com/billingsmt and www.visitbillings.com.

Alex Tyson is vice president of the 

Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau

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