Tourism summit shows optimism for summer season
NISSWA — When Seth Neistadt traveled from California to Minnesota for the first time last August, the only thing he’d heard about the state had to do with extreme weather.
That’s something the tourism industry would like to change. And this year, if funding levels are elevated for the state’s tourism arm, Explore Minnesota expects to have more resources to show there is more to the state than weather headlines.
John Edman, Minnesota Tourism director, was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber’s Regional Tourism and Online Marketing Summit at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa.
For the past 10 years, Edman said the question has been how much will be cut from the tourism marketing budget. This year, with final budget decisions expected at the end of May, Explore Minnesota could have the opportunity to increase its annual $8.3 million budget significantly. The Minnesota Tourism Growth Coalition, chaired by Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO, supported an Explore Minnesota budget increase to $16 million annually.
For every $1 spent on tourism marketing, an Explore Minnesota study found an estimated $8 was created in state and local taxes, $22 in income and $84 in spending by travelers. For years, Explore Minnesota’s tight budget — less than Wisconsin Dells spends alone — could reach neighboring states and Canada but not much farther. An increase in the state tourism budget would open the door to markets farther away to extoll the state’s bounty like Kansas City, Mo., Omaha, Neb., and Chicago.
Edman said Minnesotans tend to think the state’s quality of life, its education and innovative companies are known farther afield, but surveys found knowledge of what Minnesota has to offer drops off quickly beyond the Midwest.
“When you get all the way to the coasts, all they know about us is the weather,” Edman said.
Attracting those visitors to Minnesota has advantages. Out-of-state travelers tend to stay longer and spend more money, Edman said.
Minnesota’s investment in tourism marketing dropped to nearly rival 1990 levels. The state currently ranks 30th in the nation for spending to promote tourism. Edman said the difference for this year’s budget was a strong support for what travel and tourism means throughout the state by Gov. Mark Dayton.
“Without the governor’s leadership on this, it would have never happened,” Edman said.
As for the coming summer season, Edman said he thinks it will be a good year. People who were reluctant to take vacations in previous years as they worried about job security, finally may feel free to take time to relax. Edman’s message at the summit was to prepare for an increase in tourism with the improving economic outlook.
First the state will have to get through a delayed spring. This year, the governor’s fishing opener may take to the only open water it can find for river fishing.
Expect to continue to see an Explore Minnesota promotional campaign focused on the senses. The state’s tourism office used extensive research to target its message. To reach tourists and travelers, the focus was placed on authentic experiences — nature, food, music, culture, shopping, people. Neistadt, who went from an August visit to working with MicroNet in Nisswa as vice president of product development, said people who live here may take some of the attractions for granted, even the clean air. Sam Couture, who also works for MicroNet, moved here a few years ago after living in Ohio and the Pacific Northwest and was struck by the data regarding tourism’s economic impact in the state.
Edman said that impact translates into jobs and revenue for Minnesota.