Local view: What a summer for Duluth!The News Tribune reported that June delivered the biggest monthly increase in tourism tax collections so far this year with an 8.3 percent bump.
By: Terry Mattson, Duluth News Tribune
The News Tribune reported that June delivered the biggest monthly increase in tourism tax collections so far this year with an 8.3 percent bump. Representing a driving force for that and the official destination-marketing organization, including 450 members and the city of Duluth, I can tell you it’s going to get even better.
Take for instance preliminary July lodging revenue: It increased by 15 percent. That’s practically unheard of in today’s world. Yet here they mirror double-digit lodging revenue increases year-to-date. Occupancy, average daily rate and demand also are up. Our performance is clearly on top of Minnesota and most of the United States.
More than ever the investment in tourism and promotion is paying handsome dividends. Consider what was an $80 million direct impact in the late 1980s. It is now $800 million.
And wow, what a summer! At Visit Duluth we kicked off in April with our television advertising partnership at Explore Minnesota Tourism, Fox Sports North and the Minnesota Twins. Two other key components of this year’s core campaign were billboards and spots on KSTP and WCCO in the Twin Cities. The campaign also combined social media and print with stunning Duluth imagery and marquee events such as Tall Ships Duluth.
We also generated millions of dollars of digital, electronic and print coverage in places like the Star Tribune, USA Today, AAA Living Magazine, Twin Cities Live, Lake Superior Magazine, ESPN and Brand USA, to name just a few.
A host of organizers are keeping Duluth hopping with special events this year. While final results are not in yet, July is proving to be tremendously affected by Tall Ships week. Many stakeholders report all-time record sales.
Not only did Visit Duluth make a $15 million impact with Tall Ships, this gargantuan undertaking attracted 200,000 people to the waterfront. That helped us meet our goal of creating a far-reaching buzz that enhances the image and popularity of Duluth. This tidal wave of publicity will resonate for years to come.
Also, somewhere in between, we produced Minnesota’s best and biggest Fourth of July fireworks display.
Boosted by Tall Ships, July lodging tax revenue percentages should rise by the upper teens. Visit Duluth presold tickets to Tall Ships fans in 50 states and in every Canadian province. Those visitors booked rooms, shopped and enjoyed our connection to the natural world.
Many of Visit Duluth’s measurements are eye-popping. Telephone inquiries are up 230 percent, Web-page views increased 79 percent, Web visitors are up 66 percent, unique visitors are up 63 percent and Facebook fans rose 209 percent.
Additionally, Visit Duluth spearheads the city’s convention-sales effort and also takes the lead in the sports market, working with tournament organizers to showcase our venues. The number of room nights booked for the future is up 28 percent over this time last year. Convention bookings are up 10 percent, and the number of new leads is up 19 percent.
The group tour market also is ahead of 2012, benefiting from Tall Ships and the Wally Byam Caravan Club Rally. Additionally, there were cruise visits from the Grand Mariner and the Yorktown.
We’re attracting 3.5 million guests to Duluth each year and are a critical component of Minnesota’s $12 billion-a-year tourism industry. Thanks to Gov. Mark Dayton and the state Legislature, Explorer Minnesota Tourism received a much-needed boost in funding. With the promotional budget nearly doubled from $8 million to $15 million, Minnesota will be more competitive nationally.
We have incredible momentum with opportunities for potential grants with the Duluth International Airport to tap the expensive Chicago ad market, for example. We’re enthusiastic about partnerships with Travel America and Brand USA that are targeted internationally. There are new developments capitalizing on the great outdoor experiences of the St. Louis River corridor and Spirit Mountain while craft brews and world-class trails offer more.
Many feared our industry would take a big hit after the 2012 flooding. But thanks to fast action and working together we moved forward in a positive way. Aside from a slight decline in 2009, Duluth tourism shows enviable increases in 23 of the past 24 years.
Our hard-working staff and members of Visit Duluth, along with everyone associated with tourism and hospitality, deserve credit and thanks. Readers of Lake Superior Magazine just honored Duluth with a whopping 11 Best of the Lake honors. It has been a truly amazing summer, and we’re lucky to live here.
Terry Mattson is president and CEO of Visit Duluth (visitduluth.com).