BILLINGS — Hundreds of people were in Billings on Sunday for the Queen Bee Montana Marathon. It meant big business for hotels in the city, another strong weekend in a spring season that has been full of them.
Brenda Gescher, who lives in Sublimity, Oregon, was one of many travelers who came from outside Montana for the race. She had been planning the trip for about five months, so she booked her hotel room some time ago.
“At a decent price too, by booking in advance,” Gescher said.
This turned out to be smart planning on his part, as hotel occupancy and room rates have skyrocketed over the past two months.
“So the last month of travel, especially in Billings, has been really good,” Best Western Plus Clocktower Inn owner Steve Wahrlich said.
Wahrlich has seen a lot of faces come and go at his hotel over the past month.
“Occupancy in the city over the past month is hovering around 80%, about 15-20% higher than it normally is,” Wahrlich said.
He says it has a lot to do with the turnaround crews working at the city’s three refineries. However, events like the Queen Bee have also brought visitors to Billings.
“Additionally to what Visit Billings has done in booking various sporting events, Metra Park with last week’s concert, graduation,” Wahrlich said.
It’s been busy for many hotels across the state of Montana, but the Magic City leads in a key category.
“Billings has led the state for two months in terms of occupancy. Bozeman is still leading us in speed, but we are catching them,” Wahrlich said.
Hotels are charging people more to stay as their own costs rise.
“If you look at inflation, if you look at salaries, most hoteliers will tell you that their salaries are 25% higher than they were a year ago this time around,” Wahrlich said.
He says this is also attributed to the shortage of workers, fewer workers means more hours for current employees.
“We’re all struggling, there are fewer people in the workforce,” Wahrlich said.
However, Wahrlich thinks next month won’t be as busy.
“I’m guessing we’ll fall back to our typical 60% occupancy, which will be about average for this time of year,” Wahrlich said.
Either way, travelers like Lori Chargill, who came from Gillette, Wyoming for the marathon, say the Magic City was well worth the trip.
“This race was amazing, the city looks great. It’s been a lot of fun,” Chargill said.