BILLINGS — Hundreds of people were in Billings Sunday for the Queen Bee Montana Marathon. That meant big business for the city's hotels, another strong weekend in a spring season that's been full of them.
Brenda Gescher, who lives in Sublimity, Oregon, was one of a number of travelers who came from outside Montana for the race. She’d been planning the trip for about five months so she booked her hotel room a while ago.
“At a decent rate too, booking in advance,” said Gescher.
It turned out to be smart planning on her part as hotel occupancy and room rates have skyrocketed over the last couple of months.
“So, the last month in travel, in particular in Billings, has been very good,” said owner of Best Western Plus Clocktower Inn, Steve Wahrlich.
Wahrlich has seen a lot of faces come and go at his hotel over the last month.
“The occupancy in the city for the last month is running around 80% which is about 15-20 percentage points higher than it normally is,” said Wahrlich.
He says a lot of it has to do with the turnaround crews that work at the three refineries across town. However, events like the Queen Bee have also brought visitors to Billings.
“Also, to what Visit Billings has been doing in booking various sporting events, Metra Park with the concert last week, graduation,” said Wahrlich.
It’s been busy for many hotels across the state of Montana, but the Magic City is on top in a key category.
“Billings is leading the state for the last two months in occupancy. Bozeman is still leading us in rate, but we’re catching them,” Wahrlich said.
Hotels are charging folks more to stay as their own costs rise.
“If you look at inflation, if you look at wages, most hoteliers will tell you their wages are 25% higher than they were a year ago this time,” said Wahrlich.
He says a lot this is also attributed to the worker shortage, fewer workers mean longer hours for current employees.
“We’re all struggling, there are less people in the work force,” said Wahrlich.
However, Wahrlich thinks the next month or so won’t be as busy.
“My guess is we’ll drop back into our typical 60% occupancy which will be about average for this time of year,” said Wahrlich.
Regardless, travelers like Lori Chargill, who came from Gillette, Wyoming for the marathon, says the Magic City was well worth the trip.
“This race was amazing, the town looks great. It’s been a lot of fun,” Chargill said.