Montana and Wyoming Tourism InsiderAnalysis of online data, stats, advertising budgets and trends
within Montana and Wyoming's tourism industry. 

Compiled by Bruce Gourley, Founder and Owner, Yellowstone.Net

 

News and Trends

Information you need to know to remain competitive in an online travel world, compiled from online statistical and analytical databases and third-party web marketing sources. 

Web Strategy: One Site or Two?

January 26, 2009 - The state of Montana utilizes a dedicated web site, wintermt.com, to promote winter tourism. Reflecting the time frames in which visitors begin planning winter trips, site traffic began spiking in October 2008 and peaked at 2,000 daily visitors in December.

How does winter tourism compare to summer? Montana's main tourism Web presence, visitmt.com, peaked at less than 6,000 visitors daily in mid-July 2008, and remained below 3,000 daily visits from September through the end of the year. At no time during the year did both sites combined draw more than 6,000 visitors daily.

The state of Wyoming takes a different tack. Rather than utilizing a separate domain for winter, winter activities in the state are touted in a special section of a unified tourism Web presence. Site traffic in 2008 peaked at approximately 3,200 in August.

Which model is most effective? Increasingly, many businesses at large are setting up multiple Web sites via multiple domains. The cost and time barriers for this strategy are low; domain registration and hosting costs as little as $5 a month, while designing two sites requires little more effort than creating one consolidated site. This strategy presupposes that multiple domains / sites will result in a wider presence in search engines.

On the flip side, maintaining one comprehensive domain / site potentially results in a stronger (less diluted) brand and has the advantage of consolidating traffic in one place, thus creating momentum based on economy of scale.

The higher visitor totals collectively captured by the Montana sites do not necessarily mean that Montana has a more effective Web presence than Wyoming. In fact, on average, three times more daily search engine queries seek information on Montana than Wyoming. By this measure, Wyoming's state tourism site is garnering a greater percentage share of interested searchers than Montana.

Regional Travel Portals: Daily Visitors

August 7, 2008 - At the heart of the effectiveness and success of any web property is the number of people who visit the site on a daily basis.  Among area travel sites, regional portals - sites that provide information, resources and services on a broad scale - garner the lion's share of traffic.

The more popular Montana / Wyoming travel portals include (alphabetically by URL):  Montana.Com (privately owned), TravelMT.Com (privately owned), VisitMT.Com (official state tourism site), WyomingTourism.Org (official state tourism site), and Yellowstone.Net (privately owned).  One of these portals, however, garners as much daily traffic as the other four combined, according to independent Media Measurement corporation Quantcast.  (Click here to see the daily visitor totals for all five area portals.)

A number of factors determine a site's popularity, including search engine rankings, external links, depth and quality of content, engagement of visitors, recognition by traditional news media, and the age of the site's domain. 

Regional portals represent only a handful of Montana and Wyoming sites, yet have a proportionally large influence in terms of web presence.  Accordingly, regional travel portals are highly visible to web surfers planning a trip to the region, and are attractive advertising platforms for area tourism businesses.

Montana Bed and Breakfast Report

June 16, 2008 - Among locally-owned Montana bed and breakfasts, a handful of properties lead the pack in terms of the effectiveness of their online presence.  The Montana Bed and Breakfast Association website is the single most important website for B&Bs to be listed in.  While only an estimated 2000-4000 visitors frequent the site on a monthly basis, B&Bs are a highly niche market and the MBBA ranks #1 in Google and #3 in MSN when searching for "montana bed and breakfast." 

Among the Montana B&Bs managing to maintain a top 10 presence in Google searches for "montana bed and breakfast," Bozeman's Voss Inn and Lehrkind Mansion Bed & Breakfast are in a virtual tie in terms of Internet visitors.  Both sites receive in the neighborhood of 1000 visitors a month.  The Lehrkind Mansion benefits from its Internet domain name, while the popularity of the Voss Inn site stems in part from keyword advertising (including targeting phrases such as "bridger bowl ski area" and "montana vacation").

Bozeman B&Bs, in fact, represent four of the six B&Bs currently maintaining Top 10 Google positions.  The Silver Forest Inn and Fox Hollow round out the Bozeman four, while Eastern Montana is represented by Glendive's 1906 Charley Montana Bed & Breakfast and northwestern Montana by A Silver Rose B&B near Glacier National Park.  In terms of Internet traffic, all four receive less than 500 visitors monthly.

In short, while Montana B&Bs, a niche within the Montana travel industry, garner relatively little Internet traffic, the percentage of Net visitors who make reservations is higher than in the travel industry as a whole.  As such, an Internet presence is an excellent investment yielding a relatively high ROI.  

Ski Resort Trends 2007-2008

April 20, 2008 - Thanks to lots of snow, more skiers hit the slopes this past season. But how did the Internet impact customer counts? While Jackson Hole and Big Sky attracted the most site visitors, Bridger Bowl experienced the greatest surge in Internet visitors, nearly matching Big Sky in November. Only Red Lodge Mountain defied the trend of a sharp drop in site visitors from December and January highs, while Whitefish Mountain Resort maintained a near-tie with Grand Targhee Resort in both January and February.

Here's a rundown of how ski resorts fared in terms of site traffic, from highest to lowest:

  • Jackson Hole (Wyoming)
    Topped the charts in terms of site visitors
    Site visitors peaked in January, dropped sharply in February.
  • Big Sky (Montana)
    Sharp drop in traffic in February
    December and January were both good traffic months, but site visitors dropped very sharply in February.
  • Bridger Bowl (Montana)
    Best November - December improvement
    Greatest surge in site traffic from November to December, as well as the greatest increase in traffic from February to March.
  • Grand Targhee (Wyoming)
    Best staying power, December through March
    While not drawing the visitor volume of the top tier three, the site traffic remained fairly steady throughout the season. 
  • Whitefish (Montana)
    Similar pattern to Jackson Hole and Big Sky
    Site traffic peaked in January, as did Jackson Hole and Big Sky.
  • Red Lodge (Montana)
    Consistent site traffic
    Avoiding sharp ups and downs, the site recorded more visitors in March than December. Users searching for ski package specials flocked to the site.

Brief Notes: Regional  & Industry Trends

Summer 2008

  • Travel industry websites are receiving 20-50% of their traffic from paid search results, according to some analysts.  Travel agencies are most dependent on paid searches, followed by hotels. 
  • The National Park Service now edges out Walt Disney World and Carnival Cruise Lines in terms of online traffic

Spring 2008

  • One online marketing research firm names "Yellowstone National Park" as a top 10 travel category search phrase. 
  • Marriott and Hotels.Com lead the lodging market in online customer experience and service.
  • Bozeman's Voss Inn and Lehrkind Mansion Bed & Breakfast lead the way in effective use of the Internet by Montana B&Bs.