Duluth tourism proceeds improvingDuluth’s hospitality industry is showing early signs of recovery. The proceeds from tourism taxes the city collects on lodging, food and beverages are significantly up from last year.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth’s hospitality industry is showing early signs of recovery. The proceeds from tourism taxes the city collects on lodging, food and beverages are significantly up from last year.
Sales tax revenues from hotels and motels in April were up more than 8 percent from April of last year. Taking a broader view, for the first four months of 2010, hotels and motels have seen their business increase 5.3 percent compared with the first quarter of 2009.
“I think people had hunkered down about as much as they could, and now they’re looking at Duluth as an affordable vacation destination,” said Todd Torvinen, president and chief financial officer of Duluth-based ZMC Hotels.
Duluth has been the beneficiary of still-wary travelers adjusting their plans, Torvinen said.
“People are still watching their budgets, but they’re saying: We can go to Duluth for a weekend and ski Spirit Mountain, instead of taking that trip to Colorado,” he said.
Restaurants and bars also have seen their sales improve in Duluth, with April revenues up 4.5 percent from the same month last year. For the first quarter of this year, the performance of local bars and restaurants has been even slightly stronger, rising 4.9 percent from the same period in 2009.
“This year is starting out much better than last year. We’re much more comfortable heading into this summer,” said Brian Daugherty, president of Grandma’s Restaurant Co., a Duluth-based chain.
“All the way up until the marathon last year was a very scary time for us,” he recalled.
Though Daugherty said business hasn’t rebounded to where it had been a couple of years ago, he said it’s markedly better than what it was in 2009. “We’re proceeding with cautious optimism.”
The local hospitality industry probably can attribute at least some of the recent uptick to unseasonably warm spring weather, observed Gene Shaw, director of public relations for Visit Duluth.
Shaw predicts the summer will bring continued sales improvements, despite construction challenges “I’m not expecting construction to stop people from coming for Grandma’s Marathon, the Fourth of July, the Tall Ships Festival, the Airshow or the Bluesfest,” he said. “It might take 15 to 20 more minutes for people to get to their destinations, but they will still come.”