BILLINGS — The Montana all-class wrestling tournament brought thousands of visitors to Billings. Parking lots were packed at MetraPark as Montanans from all over came to cheer their teams on- which meant a big boost in business for the area's still-struggling hospitality industry.
“What an event to see,” said Nick Oxarart, athletics director for Malta.
It looked like a scene from pre-COVID times, and attendees came prepared.
“We drove up, left home at 5 a.m. and figured we’re in for the whole day here,” said Jamie Ball of Fort Benton.
Familiar faces from all over came to support.
“I’ve been coming for quite a few years so it’s fun to take it in, I’m glad to be back,” Oxarart said.
Oxarart has been planning for this weekend since last year.
“Luckily I’m with the Malta wrestling team as the AD, so we booked our rooms probably close to a year in advance so we didn’t have to fight that,” said Oxarart.
Those big crowds mean big business for both restaurants and hotels.
“We went to Buffalo Wild Wings last night. They were in and it was busy and it was awesome,” Oxarart said.
Many hotels across Billings are completely sold out and have been for days. Hotel owners like Steve Wahrlich couldn’t be happier.
“I think we as hoteliers, and lodging facility operators, and short-term rental people have been anxiously waiting, sort of getting through the winter and into it,” said Wahrlich, Best Western Plus Clock Tower Inn and Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery in downtown Billings.
It’s a huge win after a nearly two-year pandemic.
“It’s not been a lot of fun being in this industry. We’ve held our own,” Wahrlich said.
With back-to-back major sporting events coming up in the next month, hoteliers like Wahrlich can rest easy knowing things are picking back up again.