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Tourism "flat" in Billings, down in Red Lodge

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jul 24, 2022

Tourism has decreased in some of the areas damaged by flooding and the effect has been smaller in Billings.

A Billings motel owner says occupancy or the number of customers is down about 10 to 12% and the rate charged is up about 10 to 12%, compared to the same time last year. He says that's about the same for many across the country.

"Now there are markets that have come back," said Steve Wahrlich, Best Western Clocktower Inn owner. "There's always an exception to the rule. But for the most part, business is down overall about 10 to 12% occupancy. Up in rate about 10, 12%. So basically, revenues are flat, costs are up."

Wahrlich is part of the Best Western International Board, the Governor's tourism advisory committee, the Montana Lodging Association and the Billings tourism business improvement district.

He says hotels have recovered from COVID and the floods in Carbon and Stillwater counties did not have much of an effect in Billings.

"The flood really hasn't impacted our business," Wahrlich said. "Had a couple cancellations. People say I'm not coming, but very minimal."

Wahrlich also owns Stella's Kitchen & Bakery and says restaurants face similar challenges.

"We're flat," Wahrlich said. "So we're actually probably less customers and our costs have gone up, as in every restaurant."

Red Lodge has held many of its traditional events.

With the flood damage, the restaurant business has decreased.

"We need to get the message back to everyone that were open and would love to have you," said Sherry Weamer, executive director of the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce.

She says while flooding damaged a couple hotels, the rest are open but have not seen a lot of customers.

"When I meet with the lodging partners, all of them, they're all saying they're empty," Weamer said.

Weamer expects business to get better with the reopening of the Beartooth pass between Red Lodge and Cooke City, where busines owners have seen a decrease in customers.

"Some of the lodges are running at about 25 or 30% capacity from their normal seasons," said Kelsey Bruinwood of the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce.

"Everybody's very positive here and ready to make it make it all happen again," Weamer said.

"It's not a cause for alarm, but there's a big cautionary flag out there," Wahrlich said.