Event may draw 7,000
The BMW Motorcycle Owners of America has booked a rally in Billings for July 23-25 next year that is expected to bring up to $5 million to town.
The international BMW organization has about 35,000 North American members and expects about 7,000 visitors for the 2015 rally.
About half the group is expected to spend four nights in hotels and motels, which would be a $2.7 million boost to the local economy just from lodging. The other half of the group will camp on the MetraPark grounds.
"It's satisfying from time to time to be reminded through the eyes of our guests just how desirable Billings is," said Chamber president and chief executive John Brewer.
The announcement was made over Skype by Bob Aldridge, executive director of the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association, who spoke from the group's headquarters near Kansas City, Kan.
"You've got just great natural amenities, whether it's the Beartooth Highway, or the Rimrocks or the Little Big Horn National Monument," he said. "All of the routes to get to Billings are wonderful rides."
The international convention could draw BMW motorcycle fans from two dozen countries, including Australia and New Zealand, said Billings BMW veteran rider Gary Smith. He is an ambassador for the organization and has worked for three decades to bring this event to town.
There are only two kinds of BMW riders: "Those who have ridden the Beartooth Highway and those who haven't," said Smith, quoting another fan of the German-made bike.
With today's helmet and bike-mounted digital cameras, their trip will be shared with thousands of other people, he said.
"They're going to take all those pictures home and they're going to share it with their clubs," Smith said. "We're going to see the spilloff for the next 15 years."
Steve Wahrlich, who heads the Chamber?s Tourism Business Improvement District, said the TBID spent up to $15,000 in travel expenses over the last four years courting the BMW owners.
?When you go after these things, it?s like a date,? he said. ?It worked and we got engaged for one year.?
By promoting this event, Wahrlich said the TBID hopes to boost attendance from around 7,000 to 8,000 or more.
The BMW owners hold a convention each year alternating regions of the U.S. This summer?s convention will be held in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The 2013 rally was held in Salem, Ore.
Billings beat out two other Rocky Mountain communities, which Aldridge declined to name.
During two scouting trips to Billings, the BWM executives walked almost every inch of MetraPark's 189 acres, said the facility's general manager Bill Dutcher.
Ron Spence, who manages the Billings Hotel & Convention Center, said the group comes at the right time for his hotel, which is completing a $1.5 million project remodeling all 235 of his rooms.
?We?ll be doing something special like bike washes and things to make sure these guys have a great experience,? Spence said.
A BMW motorcycle starts at $7,500, Smith said, and ranges up to $30,000.
The Honda Gold Wings Road Riders Association held its convention at MetraPark in 1997, 2000 and 2007, Dutcher said.
In 2006, the Harley-Davidson owners group brought about 10,000 people to Billings, who spent an estimated $6 million.
When asked how the BMW folks differ from the Harley riders, Smith said, ?We?re a lot quieter.?