Of all the letters written last week to the Duluth City Council regarding Duluth Mayor Emily Larson’s plan to outsource the city’s marketing and promotions away from the legacy of Visit Duluth, many rang out.
But one letter, in particular, stood out.
It was written by Cyd Haynes, interim executive director of Minneapolis Northwest Tourism. She's actively working with the firm Larson proposes to have take over promotion of the city, and thinks it would be a mistake.
“Visit Duluth has proven its ability to bring leisure tourist, sports events, conferences, and meetings into your area,” Haynes wrote in her plea to councilors.
Haynes manages tourism for three Hennepin County cities on the edge of Northwest Minneapolis — Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Maple Grove, constituting roughly 188,000 residents. The Minneapolis-based Bellmont Partners is a part of that work, and touts it in its credentials.
“We hire Bellmont for a very small slice of our work, because of their expertise,” Haynes said in a phone interview Friday. “But we still have our own marketing team with our own marketing strategy.”
Larson announced Tuesday her proposal to hire Bellmont Partners for the city’s marketing and promotions, receiving a $1.8 million budget for 2022. Visit Duluth, which has been the city's promoter since 1935, would be offered a $400,000 contract mostly to manage conventions. Larson’s plan would also create a new tourism, arts and culture position full-time at City Hall.
Tourism brings an estimated 3.5 million visitors annually to Duluth and is a $780 million a year industry, with lots of vested interests. Larson's plan was met with a tidal wave of discontent from throughout the community.
The News Tribune asked Haynes, why not let Duluth find out on its own?
“I don’t want the people of Duluth to fail,” Haynes said. “They would be misstepping by hiring two to three different organizations to do the job that should be done by one.”
Haynes described tourism as interdependent throughout the state.
“Duluth is one of our shining jewels, so I am invested even though I don’t live there,” she said.
Then she got to a core of the matter: She and other destination marketing organizations — the conventions-and-visitors-bureaus of the world — don’t want to lose grip on something they believe they do expertly.
“There will be a lot more of this kind of action as councils want to think things through,” Haynes said, wary of Larson's maneuvering.
Notably, Larson didn’t have the tourism community at her back when she rolled out her plan, and it showed in the ensuing resistance.
But Visit Duluth is a membership-based organization, Larson noted last week, making the point that everyone should have access to the promotional and marketing opportunities made possible by public funds.
“In the past 18 months, many entities who are not members have shared that they do not feel served and supported by the member model and do not get access to publicly funded promotional opportunities as a result,” Larson wrote in her own letter to city councilors. “Public funds should be accessible to all entities, not just the ones who pay to access.”
Indeed, one party's letter to city councilors in support of Larson last week said Visit Duluth "viciously works to cull potential competitors" who aren't members.
The City Council will hear Larson and Bellmont present their proposal at a committee-of-the-whole meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, in advance of the regular meeting at 7 p.m.
As for Haynes, she feels for Bellmont and Visit Duluth both, describing Bellmont as armed with considerable marketing skills, and crediting Visit Duluth for "ongoing, proven success."
"These are both excellent organizations presently placed at odds with a looming tourism outcome," Haynes said, before offering a compromise of her own: "There's no reason Visit Duluth can't hire Bellmont Partners to do some marketing work."