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A View on Tourism: Tourism has to have faster start in 2018

The William A. Irvin 5K, photographed here in 2016, is among the events and attractions that annually attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Duluth. (News Tribune file photo)

As the calendar flips to 2018, Visit Duluth is rolling out a high-profile Twin Cities campaign touting Duluth as the ultra winter outdoor destination. An entire train on the light-rail Blue Line will be wrapped with dynamic exterior images of Spirit Mountain and ice climbing at Quarry Park, highlighting the tagline, "Find it in Duluth." Interior photos will feature Duluth in all its winter glory, including craft brews, the Aerial Lift Bridge and snow-covered trails.

The Blue Line travels between the Mall of America and downtown Minneapolis, and the graphics will be in place through March, with the added bonus of exceptionally high ridership by visitors during Super Bowl LII.

In mid-January, Visit Duluth also will take over a commuter platform in the Twin Cities during the morning and evening rush hours for a live marketing event, giving away Duluth-themed prizes and saturating social media.

The tourism industry struggled mightily through the first three months of 2017, mainly due to inclement weather, including sub-zero temperatures, extreme wind, and rain. It was a brutal start that prompted Visit Duluth to direct resources and focus on winter messaging throughout the first quarter of 2018 to generate increased visitor activity during this critical season.

While the pace of new hotel construction has slowed compared to recent years, a new Fairfield Inn & Suites is slated to open this spring at Lakehead Marina on Park Point, followed by Duluth's first hostel located on First Street downtown. These additional rooms weave their way into the existing inventory, creating increased pressure on softening occupancy levels.

The proposal being considered by the Duluth City Council to create an earned-sick-and-safe-time ordinance promises to be at the forefront for hospitality businesses this year. Discussions with city leadership will commence early in the new year with the hope of developing a mandate that restaurants, attractions, hotels, and retail can effectively manage. It's a challenging issue that weighs heavily on the tourism industry.

A coming highlight for tourism in Duluth is the grand opening of the spectacular NorShor Theatre in February. The opening will shine a spotlight on our city's thriving arts and culture scene, which is a growing segment in terms of visitors to Duluth. The reinvigorated HART (Historic Arts and Theater) District downtown continues its evolution into a vibrant and dynamic destination. The same holds true for the explosion of development taking place in the Lincoln Park Craft District. These distinct neighborhood and downtown experiences entice visitors to return time and again.

Speaking of providing more reasons for visitors to return, the ongoing development of the St. Louis River Corridor is another positive sign of a healthy tourism industry here in Duluth. Several key projects are scheduled for completion this year. As they come online, our western waterfront becomes the focus of outdoor recreation in Duluth.

Overall, the opportunities outweigh the challenges, and Duluth is poised for another successful year in tourism.

Anna Tanski is CEO of Visit Duluth, our convention and visitors bureau. She wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

About this series

The News Tribune Opinion page asked community leaders to look into their crystal balls and to share their insights into what the new year might bring.

Monday: City of Duluth

Tuesday: St. Louis County

Wednesday: Duluth school district

Thursday: Minnesota Legislature

Friday: Northland economy

Saturday: Downtown

Sunday: Washington, D.C.

Monday: Tourism

Join the conversation: What do you see in your crystal ball? Letters to the editor can be directed to letters@duluthnews.com.

Anna Tanski

Anna Tanski is president/CEO of Visit Duluth and lives in Hermantown with her husband, Jason. She has two children, Allison and Steven. She’s a native of the Twin Ports, born and raised in Superior, hence a Green Bay Packer fan to the core.

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