Homes away from home on the range

Montana State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

Montana's mountain streams and dude ranches are attracting a growing number of international visitors. Tourist officials and resort owners are taking measures to maintain this trend.

As the fourth largest industry in Montana, tourism brought 6.5 million non-resident visitors and $900 million in 1992 to a state with fewer than 1 million residents. About 130,000 of those visitors came from Europe and Asia. Matthew Cohn, director of MontanaTravel, cites international tourism as the fastest growing sector in the business.

MontanaTravel, a division of the Montana Department of Commerce, coordinates with Wyoming, South Dakota and Idaho to advertise in Europe and Asia. International tourists are enticed by Montana's scenery, history and culture, Cohn says, their awareness heightened by the movies "A River Runs Through It" and "City Slickers."

International tourism has two unique economic advantages over domestic tourism. International tourists spend twice as much per day as domestic tourists, according to a survey by the US Department of Commerce. Unlike the slower growing domestic tourism market, expansion in international tourism by one state doesn't impede another state's regular business, according to Cohn. International tourists usually don't stay in one spot; therefore, states can coordinate tours and share earnings.

A frequent host to international guests, West Fork Meadows Ranch, near the Idaho border, rests on 200 acres of land and features fishing and horseback riding. About 60 percent of all ranch guests come from Europe, mostly Germany and Switzerland. Horseback riding enthusiasts welcome the vast open spaces and solitude found in Montana, says owner Guido Oberdorfer.

At West Fork Meadows, European guests don't have to leave everything familiar behind while on holiday in Montana. "When I came here, there were three things I didn't want to miss: the bread, coffee and beer," says Oberdorfer, a native of Germany. To make sure guests feel "at home," the ranch bakes its own bread and imports German beer and coffee beans. With Oberdorfer at the ranch, guests not proficient in English can still learn about the American West.

EastWest United (EWU), a Japanese export firm, brings a slice of Japanese culture to Montana at its Peaceful Lodge. Nestled near Glacier National Park and the Canadian border, the lodge, which highlights food and art from Japan, provides cultural and environmental education programs. Almost 50 percent of all guests come from Japan, including a number of Japanese school groups.

By educating Japanese visitors about Montana and Americans about Japan, the lodge enhances EWU's promotion of Montana products in Japan. EWU's efforts go beyond maintaining the lodge. For example, "Amish Country Cooking," a local Amish cookbook, was translated into Japanese. In 1991, EWU presented a Japanese Cultural Program on top of Big Mountain in Whitefish. Plans are also in place to publish a book in Japan on life and politics in Montana.

Rob Grunewald