Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Western Montana tourism group works on new stewardship plan

Mineral Independent | June 5, 2024 12:00 AM

Thursday evening in the St. Regis Community Center, Racene Friede, president and CEO of Western Montana’s Glacier Country, held a town hall meeting to listen to the residents of Mineral County regarding visitors and tourism to the area.  

She also discussed a stewardship plan for the region, which was developed as a result of town hall meetings in 2021.  

“When things went kind of topsy-turvy back in 2020, we had this huge influx of people to Montana during the pandemic, and it was overwhelming,” she said to a small audience. “That was at a time when our communities didn’t have the capacity to take on all of those people. Businesses that were allowed to remain open were operating on a skeleton staff. Housing started to spike. We knew at that time if we needed to look at our mission, which was a marketing position to promote western Montana to visitors coming from out of state, to do something different. Through a series of meetings and strategic planning, we realized that we needed to focus on our residents and our quality of life, first and foremost.” 

This altered direction came from the Glacier Country Board of Directors and shifted the mission to what is called a Destination Stewardship Organization. 

Friede explained that this is all about balancing the resident quality of life with the visitor quality experience. 

“What we are really trying to do is look at how do you mesh the marketing side of things with working more collaboratively with our communities to find out what they want from us,” she explained.

Up until the last few years, Glacier Country, which is partially funded through bed-tax, has been responsible for marketing Western Montana as a tourism destination through campaigns out of state to promote visitors from all over the U.S. That, along with the glossy travel guides promoting the eight counties in their region and the activities in the urban and rural communities.

They will continue to market the area, but in a very targeted fashion, and the addition of a Community Engagement Director allows the organization to do so through listening to the needs and wants of communities in our region. 

Information relevant to Mineral County arose through questions about the time of year that St. Regis could use a boost in travelers, and what services have been requested by those traveling through Superior that could be considered? People also asked about directions to training front line staff (waitresses, bartenders, cashiers, etc.) on how to answer questions when asked what there is to do in the area. 

The group's website (glaciermt.com) is a hub of information merchants can use to share with tourists which might delay them leaving Mineral County and stay an extra day because of the friendly information they learned about. 

Glacier Country is also a resource for referring businesses to grants for numerous tourism business needs. 

“What do the seasonal businesses need and what are the capacities they hold and are they enough?” she asks the audience with an example being the number of bicycles for rent at Lookout Pass to ride the Hiawatha Trail. Glacier Country is a partner helping businesses work and service the tourism industry, which is the number two economic driver in the state.

“This is a 10-year plan and we’re a couple of years into it,” Friede said. “So, it’s new for everyone and we learn more from every community we visit on specific needs to that area or a common request that everyone is looking for.” 

But a clear message was present: Putting Montanans first.