While travel changed worldwide in 2020, summer and fall tourism in Duluth and along the North Shore was relatively successful.
“While many months of 2020 saw absolutely devastating tax collection numbers, our summer was quite busy and that’s where we made up some ground,” said Maarja Hewitt, media communications manager for Visit Duluth.
According to the most recent tourism tax data from Visit Duluth, which includes taxes from January through November 2020, tax collections are down 28.5% — from $11,479,112 in 2019 to $7,910,275 in 2020.
Hewitt said the Bentleyville Tour of Lights and Spirit Mountain have also been popular winter destinations for visitors — though tax information from December is still unavailable.
“There is certainly still a very high interest in coming to Duluth,” Hewitt said. “We are an outdoor city which offers many ways to safely socially distance, which is what many people are searching for right now. And with the opening of indoor dining and attractions this week, we anticipate more interest, as well.”
Duluth’s Hostel du Nord is adding a second location for the upcoming tourist season after a busy year. Owner Bob Monahan plans to take advantage of the booming summer and fall by opening a second building for the hostel, just down the alley from the current location downtown at 217 W. First St.
Despite the close quarters for sleeping, the hostel was able to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols, and guests either felt safe with the precautions, or just didn’t seem to care much about the virus, Monahan said.
“It was just overwhelming in terms of how many people showed up. I want to say it started in the end of June,” Monahan said. “We obviously lost Grandma’s (Marathon) weekend, but it stayed steady until the end of October, which was exactly where it died last year.”
The Hungry Hippie Hostel in Grand Marais saw a similar trend, according to owner Jeremy Keeble. Though the bunk room at his hostel had lower capacity, the campground on his property helped make up those bookings.
“Overall, at the end of the year, we really didn’t notice that big of a difference, but bunk-wise for the hostel, that was definitely down,” Keeble said.
His hostel also offers private rooms, which were very popular last year. Keeble said he is expecting the next few months to be successful with winter visitors in Northeastern Minnesota.
Since opening Hostel du Nord in November 2018, Monahan realized that he would need more rental availabilities to get him through the offseason.
He plans to open the new building at 118 N. Third Ave. W., by May 1. The addition will feature rooms designed for groups, rather than the single- and double-bed cubbies he currently offers.
“After two years, I just was so tired of not being able to accommodate people,” Monahan said.
The new location is a former Salvation Army church building. Monahan, who finalized his purchase of the space Dec. 23, has a vision for the sanctuary to become a recreation area for guests, and possibly for community events or retreats.
This addition to the hostel will add 24 beds to the current 48 beds Hostel du Nord offers. Each of the rooms can hold eight people. There will also be a kitchen for guests to use and the bathroom will be renovated. The property has a finished basement as well, but Monahan has yet to decide just how to tap into using the space.
While Monahan has plenty of work to do on the building to get it ready for guests in five months — including a new furnace, water heater and sprinkler system — he doesn’t need to do much work to the rooms themselves. The upstairs of the building was converted for a treatment center that was no longer functioning, so the three guest rooms are already divided by partial walls.
These partial walls could be advantageous, Monahan said, because it will hopefully hold guests accountable for keeping noise levels down when other guests are ready for bed.
“Hostel accommodations are just not for everyone. I don’t like sleeping in a room with other people, but if you look at the price of hotel rooms in Duluth, you’re probably willing to do just about anything,” he said.
And people do seem to be willing. In Keeble’s opinion, people are more likely to splurge on experiences than on their sleeping arrangements.
“I think that with VRBOs and Airbnbs, more people are open to staying in hostels,” Keeble said. “It’s definitely catching on and I think people are interested. It’s just a place to crash for the night and people can do their adventuring during the day and spend a little more on a meal than the place they’re staying at.”
Monahan hopes guests at his new space will be interested in the slightly lower rates he plans to charge for the group rooms. Less than a day after announcing the new space, he’s already received inquiries about hosting groups for retreats.
“We want to make it affordable, especially for groups of four or more,” he said. “I really think this is going to be the premier group spot.”