BOZEMAN — Unlike smaller towns near the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, there are so far few indications that Bozeman will be taking a hit on travel and tourism as a result of devastating flooding that wrecked access roads and other facilities in and near the park.
Prices for hotel rooms throughout the city are still running at head-spinning high rates, even after the closure last week of the northern entrances to the park, with some places asking and getting well over $500 a night.
Even higher rates for hotel rooms existed in 2021. Prices for lodging increased significantly last year in part because of the easing of the pandemic from 2020, said Brian Sprenger, president and CEO of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. “People were willing to pay those prices,” Sprenger said.
Several hotel operators in Bozeman were reluctant to speak on the record about pricing and impacts on tourism, but some who did expressed optimism for a successful summer.
“We’re not too concerned,” said Cameron Carter, who works the front desk at the RSVP Hotel on Seventh Avenue. According to Expedia.com, the RSVP was asking $372 a night for the weekend of July 15-17. “We do rank our prices on what other hotels are doing so if they go up, we go up. If they go down, we go down,” Carter said.
“Bozeman is not being too affected by the flooding at all.”
Providing some ballast for the expectations on a profitable summer was the announcement that the southern entrance to Yellowstone through West Yellowstone would reopen on Wednesday.
Sprenger said it is likely people who already made reservations to visit Montana this summer will adapt their plans according to where they can travel in Yellowstone and elsewhere.
“It really comes down to what was their expectation for coming out here,” Sprenger said. “Was it absolutely Yellowstone Park or was it a western vacation? Was it Montana scenery and Yellowstone was a part of that? So it is a little bit tough to define because each individual has their own expectation.”
A representative with the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a telephone message and email seeking comment.
National Park officials have announced that beginning Wednesday, the park will allow visitors access to the south loop of Yellowstone, with access from Bozeman through West Yellowstone. Accessible areas will include Madison, Old Faithful, Grant Village, Lake Village, Canyon Village and Norris.
The park will be using an alternating license plate system, allowing access to cars with plate numbers ending in odd numbers on odd days and even numbers on even days. Personalized plates will be in the odd category, and plates with a mix of letters and numbers will use the last numerical digit to determine what days they may enter.
“Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our teams and partners, we are prepared to open the south loop of Yellowstone,” Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
The north and northeast entrances to the park remain closed to visitors, and the towns outside of those entrances are looking at a rough economic summer.
Sprenger noted that the overwhelming majority of visitors to Montana do not arrive by airplane, so he was expecting limited impact on operations at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, by far the state’s busiest airport.
“We expected this year to be relatively flat but still up 40 percent compared to 2019,” Sprenger said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand to travel. For our market, tourism is only about 30 percent.”
Shiann Jenkins, the newly hired general manager of the MyPlace Hotel in Bozeman, said the hotel experienced an immediate increase in occupancy in the days after the closure of Yellowstone, and she is expecting a vibrant summer of traffic through the hotel, where rates were running at about $225 a night..
“Here in Bozeman, Montana, there’s so much to do, there’s so much history here,” she said. “And it’s so dang beautiful that I don’t think it will affect us long term.”
Ben Turczyn, a front desk associate at the AC Hotel Downtown Bozeman, said the majority of visitors to his hotel are business travelers but noted that tourists he’s spoken to are open to changing their travel plans to adjust to the partial closure of Yellowstone.
“I would continue to expect Bozeman to have a busy summer,” Turczyn said. His hotel was charging $588 a night for a stay on July 15-17, according to Expedia.com. He said callers have been asking about alternatives to visiting Yellowstone, including questions about Big Sky and Glacier National Park.
“Most people, once they hear there are other places other than Yellowstone specifically,” he added, “they seem to be pretty OK with still coming to Bozeman.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated June 23 to better reflect what some downtown hotels are typically charging per night. While a search for rooms on Trip Advisor did show that a room at the Element Bozeman was over $1,500 a night for a weekend in June, McKayla Murphy, director of sales for the Element, said after this story was first published that the current price for a room on a typical summer weekend night is $599.