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Great Falls Montana Tourism unveils master plan

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-19 20:13:39-05

GREAT FALLS — After meetings, surveys, community input, combing through research and more, Great Falls Montana Tourism presented its master plan that it says will guide the growth of the travel industry in the Electric City for the next 20 years on Friday. Stakeholders and other interested parties were on hand to learn the results.

The organization says the travel and tourism industry has changed greatly since the Covid pandemic.

For more than a year, thanks to a grant from the City of Great Falls using American Recovery Act funding, the organization has worked with consultants from Yung Strategies and Rudloff Solutions to develop a plan to help maximize the area’s tourism economy.

“These consultants have been in our market now doing research, kicking off the project, touring all the assets and looking at everything about the Great Falls travel economy,” said Rebecca Engum, Executive Director of Great Falls Montana Tourism. “Using their knowledge and history and research, they've put together a plan that says, these are our best ideas of how you can move the travel economy forward in Great Falls.”

The pair shared some of their findings with stakeholders on Friday.

“Great Falls hits on all cylinders,” said Berkeley Young, President of Young Strategies. “It's a great destination for travelers with a great gateway airport, interstate highway access halfway between two of the greatest national parks, a riverfront city with cultural arts. Great Falls has it all.”

The plan offers strategies anchored around four objectives: the Great Falls visitor experience, and active-lifestyle outdoor recreation city, hospitality industry workforce and community related issues, and community awareness and unity.

Engum says, not surprisingly the plan encourages enhancing destination development aspects such as more access to the Missouri river and trail system, more kayak and bike rentals and more boat tours along the river.

She says the group has been working on some of the suggestions like increased air service. Engum adds the plan is big on zeroing in on the city’s meeting and convention component.

“Focusing on when we have the most availability and really focusing in on what we can bring to Great Falls, on the times when we have most rooms available,” said Engum.

Darren Rudloff is the president of Rudloff Solutions and used to be a tourism leader in Cheyenne, Wyoming so he’s familiar with the types of amenities offered and challenges faced by Great Falls. He says executing the plan takes cooperation on several levels.

“It's not just the tourism organization. It’s tourism working with economic development, working with the city, with the county, but there are a lot of similarities and if you just keep going at it, you can move the ball forward,” said Rudloff.

The competitive nature of the travel industry presents a significant challenge according to Engum, which she says is not unique. She says another obstacle is the availability of the assets the city already has.

“Montana ExpoPark is full often. The Heritage Inn is full often,” said Engum. “And so, finding those times and periods where we actually have space available and then finding the what the right type of meetings or conventions that can fit into those space in a time frame that it all works out is probably the greatest challenge for us moving forward.

The consultants told the crowd the plan is a living document and can be added to regularly.

In addition to its outdoor and cultural offerings, Young said Great Falls is uniquely positioned because of the presence of Malmstrom Air Force Base.

“Malmstrom Air Force Base is a huge part of the local economy,” said Young. “Not only with all the people that live here with Malmstrom, but it's constantly rotating through people from all over the United States and the world that come here tied to Malmstrom. And many of them like it so much that they want to stay.”

Click here to view the entire plan (PDF).