The Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation is Montana’s annual gathering of private and public sector partners in the tourism and recreation industries in Montana. While the past two years have been extraordinarily challenging for the world, we’re beginning to emerge and examine things in a new light. 

The following is the schedule, speaker and presentation information from the 2022 Governor's Conference on Tourism and Recreation that was held in Billings, Montana in the Spring of 2022. Information for the 2023 Conference will be published later this year. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

4:00 PM – 7:00 PM | REGISTRATION & INFORMATION
           Location: Doubletree, Third Floor
           Sponsors: Montana State Parks (Nametags and Lanyards); Axiom IT
                          (Registration Bags); Meredith (Water Bottles) 

5:00  PM – 7:00 PM | “Welcome to the Trailhead of Awesome” 
            Location: Yellowstone Art Museum sponsored by VisitBillings

Welcome from Visit Billings and Brand MT
The Yellowstone Art Museum exhibits, interprets, collects, and preserves art, for the enrichment, education, inspiration, and enjoyment of all. The Yellowstone Art Museum is funded in part by coal severance taxes paid based upon coal mined in Montana and deposited in Montana’s Cultural and Aesthetic Projects Trust Fund. Learn more about spring 2022 exhibits here. 

After the Reception | Explore Billings
Enjoy dinner on the town as well as The Billings Brew Trail which is a walkable brewery district with many breweries and distilleries along historic streets of Billings including Montana Avenue.  

 

Monday, April 18, 2022

7:30 AM – 5:00 PM | REGISTRATION & INFORMATION
           Location: Doubletree, 3rd Floor                                                                                               Sponsors: Montana State Parks (Nametags and Lanyards); Axiom IT
                          (Registration Bags); Meredith (Water Bottles) 

8:15 AM – 9:30 AM |  EXHIBITION HALL OPEN |  MEET THE EXHIBITORS
          Location:  Doubletree, 3rd Floor

 8:15 AM – 9:15 AM |  VOICES of TOURISM-TAC NETWORKING BREAKFAST
          Location: Northern Hotel Grand Ballroom (Buffet opens at 8 AM)         

9:30 AM – 10:00 AM | CONFERENCE KICK-OFF 
          Location:  DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Ballrooms A,B,C      

10:00 AM –11:00 AM | FEATURE PRESENTATION | PETER SHANKMAN
           Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Ballrooms A,B,C
           Sponsor:  NorthWestern Energy

The New Butterfly Effect: Why the Customer Experience Matters
More Now Than Ever Before
Welcome to 2022, the year that adaptation becomes the norm. If 2020 and 2021 have taught us one thing, it's that if we don't embrace change, we simply won't survive. 
As we step unsurely into this new world, one thing is clear, however: No matter what gets thrown at us, what new challenges our businesses may face, if we don't understand the customer first, nothing else will matter. That involves being able to change trajectory on a moment's notice, being able to truly hear the customer, identify their needs, and service them - not tomorrow, not next week, but immediately. Now more than ever, if the customer doesn't feel "heard" from the get-go, they'll go somewhere else. And they've NEVER had an easier time doing that than now. If companies don't adapt, they'll be history.

 The problem is, change can be very, very scary. With no road map today, how do we know what's right? How do we know the next correct step to take? How do we make sure our business not only survives, but thrives as we navigate the twists and turns of this new customer-centric economy, wrapped up in a pandemic?
This presentation offers the five rules of the customer economy, Why speed matters, How to stay "top-of-mind" in every customer's mind, from beginning to end, How millennials, as well as Generations Z and Neuroatypical are consuming content in this new age, and how you can get in front of them.


11:00 AM –12:00 PM | FEATURE PRESENTATION | SHERRY RUPERT, AIANTA
          Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Ballrooms A,B,C

Working Together to Build Tribal Tourism – Sherry Rupert, Executive for the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association
For nearly two decades, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) has served as the national voice for American Indian nations engaged in cultural tourism. In addition to serving as the voice for Indian Country tourism, AIANTA provides technical assistance and training to Tribal nations and Native-owned enterprises engaged in tourism, hospitality and recreation.

This presentation will include tools that AIANTA is developing and best practices on working together on tourism including: B
building relationships, sensitivity to build product and market the product. How do you help visitors plan on what they are doing that is appropriate when visiting tribal lands and attractions? How can we work together to raise awareness and increase accessibility in bringing more visitors to tribal locations?

12:15 PM -1:00 |  NETWORKING LUNCHEON 
           Location: Northern Hotel Grand Ballroom
           Sponsor:  The Abbi Agency

1:15 PM – 2:15 PM | FEATURE PRESENTATION | SHAWNA SUCKOW
         
Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Ballrooms A,B,C
          Sponsor:  NorthWestern Energy

The Roaring Twenties! How to Market & Sell in the Post-Pandemic Decade Welcome to the most disruptive business climate we’ve ever experienced. The pandemic threw the entire world into a tailspin, but we’re emerging now and everything looks different in this new light. There’s a lot of confusion and noise out there about what the marketplace will look like as we continue to move forward. How will you shift your strategy, your tools, and your processes to meet the quickly evolving demands of this accelerated and different marketplace? How will you position yourself for the Roaring Twenties?

It all requires a keen understanding of your customers and how they’re making purchasing decisions now. Whether it’s B2B, at the local market, or e-commerce, how can you rise above the noise and stand out to them going forward? How can you influence the customer journey in the next normal? One thing is certain: new messaging and tools are key.

Join buyer behavior expert Shawna Suckow, CSP, CVP, CMP, as she shares her
latest findings on where we are, and what’s next. It’s not just data though; she’ll share case studies to give you the relevant steps you can take NOW.

2:30 – 3:30  | BREAKOUT SESSIONS
    
Sponsor: American Prairie

    • The Big Sky Business of Film Presented by the Montana Film Office team of Allison Whitmer, Stacey Zyliak, Sean Tippin, and Laura Benedict.

      Location: DoubleTree, 2nd Floor, Skybridge Room #4 

      Film production is big business in Big Sky Country. Montana’s rugged mountains, winding highways, never-ending great plains and prairies, sprawling ranches, and charming small towns serve as the Ultimate Location for numerous film productions each year and generate significant revenue for the state. From January 2019 to June 2020, 117 productions spent $23.9 million in local spending, provided $17.6 million in Montana employee wages, and created an estimated tax revenue of $1.3 million. Beyond the economic impact, broader influences include film-induced tourism, the cultivation of a creative economy and arts culture, and stimulating capital investments in film infrastructure. 

      In this breakout, the Montana Film Office will be presenting an update of the film industry in Montana, including highlights around the Billings area. Specific tips on how to create a film-friendly community or business, understanding set operations, and promoting your location will also be explored.  

    • Building Tourism through Collaboration with Montana Native Communities 
      Moderator: Gayle Skunkcap, Blackfeet Manpower and Montana Indigenous Tourism Alliance

      Panelists:
      Marie L. Torosian, Three Chiefs Culture Center, CSKT
      Jim Real Bird, Battle of the Bighorn Reenactment, Private Entrepreneur, Crow Tribe
      Rose Williams, Private Entrepreneur, Crow Tribe

      Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #1 

      Travel to American Indian communities in the United States continues to increase among overseas travelers with strong interest from Asian and European visitors.  Research indicates that visitors to American Indian communities are more likely to use tour packages, stay longer in the U.S., and visit multiple states than other overseas travelers to the U.S. Montana has significant opportunities to work with tribes to grow tourism products within the state. This session will focus on opportunities to enhance your tourism offerings through collaboration with tribal tourism opportunities Montana. Speaker representing tribal governments, tribal member owned businesses and the MT Indigenous Tourism Alliance, an alliance of tribal tourism representatives, tribally owned businesses and related partners, will share their experiences, challenges and opportunities to grow native tourism in Montana.

    • Data-Driven Insights: What has COVID changed? What are the challenges and opportunities?
      Presenters:
      Jeremy Sage, Ph.D. – Interim Director
      Megan Schultz -   Project Manager and Research Associate
      Kara Grau – Assistant Director of Economic Analysis
      Matthew Pettigrew – Data Engineer and Research Associate

      Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #5

      Since the start of the Pandemic, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR) has monitored and collected travel, tourism, and recreation data from Montana and across the US to estimate both the impacts of the Pandemic as it happens as well as expectations moving Forward. In this session, ITRR staff will present its most recent findings from its nonresident visitor studies, resident attitudes and perceptions, as well as findings from ongoing research digging into the evolution of public land uses, abuses, and challenges  by both residents and nonresidents. In addition to an overview of these studies by ITRR, staff will guide attendees through a brief ‘how-to’ to get more out of the data in a manner that fits their needs and locations.

  •  

3:30 – 3:45 | EXHIBIT BREAK 
        
Location:  Doubletree, 3rd Floor

 3:45- 4:45   | BREAKOUT SESSIONS 
     
Sponsor: American Prairie    

  • Being the Change: Reinventing Your DMO
    Cathy Ritter, Better Destinations, LLC

    Location: DoubleTree, 2nd Floor, Skybridge Room #4 

    A session designed to build understanding of the different types of destination organizations and why each is relevant, depending upon local priorities. Cathy also will share insight into trends that are compelling destination organizations to reconsider their core missions, the way they relate to the communities they serve, and the need for new KPIs to measure success. 

  • The Future of Social Media
    Andy Austin, Photographer

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #1 

    With Instagram itself admitting that they are no longer a photo-sharing platform, and the rapid rise of TikTok it is obvious that there is a future in short-form vertical video. This breakout session will focus on the current trends of social media platforms and the direction they're heading along with how your DMO or business should be leveraging these trends. Having leveraged these trends, Andy took his TikTok platform from 15,000 followers to 83,000 in just two months and over 20 million video views. Andy will also be discussing  best practices on working with TikTok and Instagram creators to hit your goals.

  • How to Be More Memorable Today in Hospitality & Tourism Marketing
    Shawna Suckow 

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #5

    There’s never been a time when the marketplace has been more saturated with marketing messages from every angle, every minute of the day. Translation: there’s never been a more challenging time for organizations trying to get the attention of planners and travelers. It’s become harder than ever to reach and influence prospective audiences. Today, the prize goes to the most memorable! It’s all about grabbing attention, keeping top-of-mind and leveraging word-of-mouth, so that when they’re ready to book, they think of you.

    How can you break through the noise to get noticed, and become truly memorable? Join Shawna Suckow in this eye-opening session that will leave you will fresh ideas to market differently and stand out from the competition.  She was a multi-million-dollar meeting and incentive planner for over 20 years. Today, she studies consumer behavior to uncover the latest trends, which she has shared with hundreds of hospitality & tourism audiences on five continents.
    PARTICIPANT OUTCOMES:

    • Experience several real case studies from organizations that created successful
      marketing on all types of budgets
    • Discover what is working today to gain attention and become more memorable when
      prospects are ready to book
    • Learn how to leverage word-of-mouth: the most powerful form of marketing
    • Learn what’s NOT working, so you can re-purpose your team’s valuable time and resources more effectively 

5:30–7:30 PM | MONTANA TOURISM AWARDS BANQUET & PROGRAM
      Location: Northern Grand Ballroom
      Sponsor: Hoffman York Agency 

After the Montana Tourism Awards Banquet, join us at the Alberta Bair Theater (walkable from DoubleTree by Hilton or Northern Hotel) for a chance to learn more about this unique venue. The  Alberta Bair Theater has been an integral part of the cultural scene in Billings for more than 80 years and remains the largest fully-equipped performing arts venue in the region. Or, experience the Billings Brew Trail, a walkable brewery district with historic buildings.

 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

6:30 – 7:45 AM | Sunrise Rimrock Run/Walk – Rain or Shine

Welcome to Billings! The 406 Race Series Team can’t wait to host you for the 'Rims Adventure 5k Run/Walk' on Tuesday, April 19. Come join us as you cruise on top of Billings' iconic Rims for a 5K. At each .5 mile we will have an adventure grab bag that will include a challenge for you to complete before moving on. Are you up for it? We think so! Door prizes and snacks will be provided after the run/walk.

7 AM–8 AM | Montana Tourism Improvement Business District (TBID) Meeting
       Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference #1
       
A bi-annual meeting for Tourism Business Improvement District representatives.
       The public is also welcome to attend.

8 AM–10 AM | REGISTRATION & INFORMATION
       Location: Doubletree, 3rd Floor                                                                                               Sponsors: Montana State Parks (Nametags and Lanyards); Axiom IT
                      (Registration 
Bags); Meredith (Water Bottles 

8:00 – 8:30 AM |  CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST WITH THE EXHIBITORS 
          Location:  Doubletree, 3rd Floor

8:30 – 9:30 AM | KEYNOTE PRESENTATION – SARAH ELKINS 
          Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Ballrooms A,B,C
          Sponsor: Zartico

 “Building Resilience and Connection Through Story Sharing.” 
 An experiential session designed to build an understanding of personal brand/reputation, and how that relates to personal success, professional success, and healthy relationships. Sarah will demonstrate the basic components of great storytelling as a means to connect, to build confidence, and to demonstrate personal brand. 
Story sharing is the most effective communication, professional development, and relationship building activity, helping us reach the goals as individuals and organizations.

The challenges the Montana tourism industry faces are related to the diversity of both tourists and Montana communities. To ensure a common positive experience for guests, each of us here in Montana must be good ambassadors for the state. The best way to build great ambassadors is to encourage tourist-related businesses to help each employee to identify the right story to share with the right audience, especially because they are likely to underestimate the impact of those stories on their internal messages and on the perceptions of the people around them. That’s where improved communication through storytelling can help, particularly in the areas of emotional connection (empathy), persuasion, and personal comfort in awkward and controversial/stressful situations.

 9:30 – 9:45 AM | EXHIBIT BREAK NETWORKING
         
Location:  Doubletree, 3rd Floor

9:45 – 10:45  BREAKOUT SESSIONS
           
Sponsor: Pursuit       

  • Being the Change: Reinventing Your DMO

    Moderator:
    Cathy Ritter, Better Destinations, LLC

    Panelists:
    Dylan Boyle – Executive Director Explore Whitefish
    Racene Friede – President CEO Glacier Country Tourism
    Diane Medler – Executive Director Discover Kalispell
    Brad Niva – CEO Big Sky Chamber | Visit Big Sky

    Location: DoubleTree, 2nd Floor, Skybridge Room #4 

    A session designed to build understanding of the different types of destination organizations and why each is relevant, depending upon local priorities. Cathy also will share insight into trends that are compelling destination organizations to reconsider their core missions, the way they relate to the communities they serve, and the need for new KPIs to measure success.

  • Visit Southeast Montana’s Burger Trail: Recipe for Rural Rediscovery
    Facilitator:
    Brenda Maas, Visit Southeast Montana

    Panelists:
    Cassie Solberg, Visit Southeast Montana Marketing Specialist/Trail Builder
    Alecia Smith, Owner/Operator of The Joseph in Forsyth/Trail Stop #3
    Chaley Harney, Executive Director Montana Beef Council/Trail Supporter

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #1 

     Take Montana’s #1 industry, pair it with the state’s #2 industry, sprinkle it with a dose of “What’s for Dinner?,”  and what do you have? Visit Southeast Montana’s Burger Trail.

     Today’s smart tourism is about building destination locations to move visitors along routes they might not otherwise take. Destination development of this caliber requires creativity, cooperation and communication between DMOs, businesses, and tourism partners. Discover the recipe of how Visit Southeast Montana cooked up a “Burger Trail” by coupling a simple need with some small-town charm. Plus, you will be part of the trail’s “reveal.”

  • Story Telling Tips and Strategies
    Sarah Elkins, Elkins Consulting

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #5

    Building on the first workshop, this session is designed to help participants begin collecting key personal stories to share with a variety of audiences, and to dig deeper into the development of those stories. Participants will begin to create their own story portfolio, a tool to help prepare them for uncomfortable conversations, persuasive discussions, and engaging interviews. 
    Outcomes:
    • Participants will better understand their role as an ambassador, and how their personal brand can help build their own success
    • Participants will leave with more specific goals in terms of developing a personal brand and demonstrating it, and shrinking the perception gap between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them
    • Participants will leave with a portfolio of personal stories to share in order to better demonstrate their personal brand, and will understand how their behavior, actions, and stories impact that brand
    • Participants will be better prepared to step out of their comfort zones, with solid strategies to take risks and build relationships

10:45 – 11:45 BREAKOUT SESSIONS
        Sponsor: Pursuit

  • The Visitor Experience Through Montana Agriculture 
    Moderator:  Raylee Honeycutt, Executive Director, MT Dude Ranchers' AssociationDirector of Natural Resources, MT Stockgrowers Association

    Panelists: 
    Cassie Ubaldo, Upper Canyon Outfitters
    Veronnaka Evenson, Owner Swanky Roots, Inc.
    Eric Wickens, Owner Wickens Salt Creek Ranch

    Location: DoubleTree, 2nd Floor, Skybridge Room #4 


    Montana’s agricultural industry is becoming more intertwined than ever with resident and non-resident visitors looking for local products and experiences. This breakout session describes different options to sell to visitors – whether a dude ranch experience, Montana beef, or a visit to an aquaponics greenhouse for locally produced fresh greens. How do you learn about Montana grown products and experiences to offer them to visitors, both residents and non-residents?

  • Museums as Destination Drivers
    Moderator:
    Alicia Harvey, Director of Marketing Museum of the Rockies
    Panelists: 
    Sabre Moore, Executive Director Carter County Museum
    Zen Parry, NinePipes Museum of Early Montana
    Michelle Williams, Executive Director Billings Depot Inc.

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #1 
     
    Both large and rural communities are looking for how to develop or promote assets for visitors while museums in small towns are figuring out how to bundle with other activities to create even a stronger reason to plan a destination visits. How are museums re-inventing themselves with virtual displays to entice destination visits or building routes for visitors seeking cultural or historic experiences? Or, marketing to a family looking for Montana’s unique dinosaur displays and digs? Join this session to learn more about how museums are making a difference in creating destination experiences.

  • Data-Driven Insights: What has COVID changed? What are the challenges and opportunities?
    Presenters:
    Jeremy Sage, Ph.D., Interim Director
    Megan Schultz,  Project Manager and Research Associate
    Kara Grau, Assistant Director of Economic Analysis
    Matthew Pettigrew, Data Engineer and Research Associate

    Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Conference Room #5


    Since the start of the Pandemic, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR) has monitored and collected travel, tourism, and recreation data from Montana and across the US to estimate both the impacts of the Pandemic as it happens as well as expectations moving Forward. In this session, ITRR staff will present its most recent findings from its nonresident visitor studies, resident attitudes and perceptions, as well as findings from ongoing research digging into the evolution of public land uses, abuses, and challenges  by both residents and nonresidents. In addition to an overview of these studies by ITRR, staff will guide attendees through a brief ‘how-to’ to get more out of the data in a manner that fits their needs and locations.

12:15-1:00 |  NETWORKING LUNCHEON with Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras
           Location: Northern Hotel Grand Ballroom

1:00 – 2:00 PM   FEATURE PRESENTATION | BRAND MT MARKETING presented by the Montana Marketing Team, Hoffman York Agency, and Destination Analyst
           Location: Northern Hotel Grand Ballroom

           Presenters:
           
Marlee Iverson, Brand MT Bureau Chief
           Haley Walter, Brand MT Marketing Campaign Manager
           Addie Palin, Hoffman York
           Myha Gallagher, Destination Analysts Senior Director of Research

Adventures in Marketing and Research
See how science and creativity come together to make the state’s tourism marketing campaigns a success. Brand MT and its partners will present on audience research, creative decisions, and fine-tuned media strategies that have built the most recent tourism marketing campaigns.

2:00 PM | CONFERENCE ADJOURNS

TBA | Montana Indigenous Tourism Alliance Meeting
           Location: DoubleTree, 3rd Floor, Room #5

POST CONFERENCE FAM’S:  

2:30 PM | ZOOMONTANA EXPERIENCE
 SOLD OUT
 Join Jeff Ewelt, the ZooMontana Executive Director, and his staff for a special visit to the venue.  ZooMontana is the region’s only Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoo. With over 70-acres, the zoo is home to both native and non-native species, specializing in northern-latitude animals. Visitors can admire animals in a natural setting, housed in state-of-the-art exhibits. Visitors can also enjoy the Sensory Garden, one of many botanical gardens located at ZooMontana.

2:30 PM | BILLINGS AIRPORT EXPANSION TOUR
 SOLD OUT
 A tour of the newest expansion and upgrades at the Billings airport.

2:30 PM | BIG HISTORY OUT HERE Southeast Montana
LIMITED SEATS LEFT
While you are out here, be sure to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where two vastly dissimilar cultures clashed more than 140 years ago. We’ll visit the NPS’s interpretive center, honor sacrifices at Land Stand Hill and the Indian Memorial, and walk sections of the expansive battlefield, which retains markers where soldiers and warriors fell. Interpretive guide, Rose Williamson, of Indian Battle Tours, will enthrall you with her mesmerizing storytelling and expansive knowledge of this critical piece of tribal and American history, right here in Southeast Montana.