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Your City, Your Business: Education is sometimes the key to successful tourism

On April 23, Duluth was inundated by more than 250 rowdy, excitable college students from Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Canada. While their peers were venturing off to places like Panama City, Cancun and Miami, these students chose Dulut...

On April 23, Duluth was inundated by more than 250 rowdy, excitable college students from Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Canada. While their peers were venturing off to places like Panama City, Cancun and Miami, these students chose Duluth as their getaway.

They chose Duluth, not for the typical party reasons that students normally head south, but to engage in their education and prepare themselves for future careers. These students were participating in the American Advertising Federation's National Student Advertising Competition.

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) is the trade association that represents 130 corporate members and more than 50,000 professionals in the advertising industry. They include advertisers, agencies and media companies that comprise the nation's leading brands and corporations. AAF has a national network of 210 ad clubs and connects the industry with an academic base through its 210 college chapters.

Every year, the AAF hosts the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). NSAC is the premier college advertising competition. It provides more than 3,000 college students with "real-world" experience by requiring a strategic advertising/marketing/media campaign for a corporate sponsor. Sixteen schools are selected to present their campaigns to a panel of industry executives at the AAF National Conference. The competition in Duluth represented AAF's 8th District, from which one winner advanced to the national competition field of 16.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities advertising students won the District 8 competition. Their winning campaign for NSAC corporate sponsor, Visit Florida, beat out campaigns developed by 13 other colleges and universities from throughout the Upper Midwest and Canada. Each team was challenged with creating a $7 million advertising/communication plan that would increase domestic tourism in Florida.

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For my part, I was pleased to help judge this competition. The collective work of these students far exceeded my expectations. The sales teams at the DECC and at the DCVB went to great lengths to secure Duluth as the host city. In return, our visitors were blessed with a gorgeous spring weekend.

NSAC also reminds us that every tourism destination, even Florida, has to work hard to attract visitors. Their efforts are bolstered by national multimedia campaigns with a budget of $7 million.

Fundamentally, that budget serves to drive consumers to a state with more than a century of history as a travel destination. By comparison, Duluth's tourism efforts are slightly more than two decades old.

With a media budget less than 5 percent the size of Florida's, we have achieved remarkable results. Through strategic sales and promotion, successful public projects and a great deal of private efforts, Duluth's economy has been the beneficiary of 15 consecutive years of tourism revenue growth.

Since 9/11, traveling in America has been beset with all new challenges. Although Duluth's tourism economy continued its growth pattern in 2002 and 2003, it wasn't without a lot of creative efforts. Like these students who poured their intelligence and hearts into the prospect of making Florida's tourism more successful, we too anticipate more great things for Duluth. Summer and our peak tourism season are almost here, and with them, another class of college students will graduate. Clearly, with students like these entering the market, we are going to have to continue our efforts to make Duluth Minnesota's premier getaway destination.

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