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A View on Tourism: Tourism plateaus; but no doom, gloom here

Threads of tourism are woven through the entire fabric of Duluth; much like your favorite wool sweater, it's comfortable but shows a few snags here and there. As we flip our calendars to 2019, it's a time of great anticipation -- and some anxiety...

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Denfeld’s 1947 boys basketball team is the only Denfeld basketball team to win a state title. The team’s head coach was Lloyd Holm. Team members were Rudy Monson, Larry Tessier, Paul Nace, Kenneth Sunnarborg, Eugene Norlander, Howard Tucker, Tony Skull, Jerry Walczak, Bruce Budge, Keith Stolen and student manager Bob Scott.
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Threads of tourism are woven through the entire fabric of Duluth; much like your favorite wool sweater, it’s comfortable but shows a few snags here and there. As we flip our calendars to 2019, it’s a time of great anticipation - and some anxiety - when trying to project what the new year holds for the city’s third-largest industry.

Workforce continues to be a challenge for many employers. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 17,000 people are employed within Duluth’s hospitality sector. Competition for workers remains strong, meaning higher wages and ongoing opportunities for putting as many people to work as possible. The tourism industry helps people overcome barriers to employment, develop foundational skills, identify career pathways, and find a second chance when needed. Hotels and restaurants operate beyond the traditional 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. workday, providing flexible schedules and easing the need for child care.

Duluth welcomes 6.7 million visitors each year, which is an incredible number to be sure. However, the strain on funding has limited growth, resulting in a plateau. Without additional marketing resources, it’s challenging to expand the visitor base, which is reflected in lower hotel occupancy, declining attendance at attractions, and restaurants struggling to stay in business.

Gloom and doom in 2019? No way! Challenges present new opportunities, and Visit Duluth boldly is moving forward to swing the pendulum back in a positive direction. We’re capitalizing on the momentum of three live marketing events last year in the Twin Cities, and we are expanding into new metro locations. These events draw thousands of people who interact with Duluth attractions’ mascots and win fabulous prizes, and they generate huge social-media buzz.

The return of Great Lakes cruising will be a highlight for 2019 in Duluth. Following a six-year hiatus, our port welcomes Victory Cruise Line for two visits in August. Duluth will be the final port of call before passengers travel to Thunder Bay and disembark; then the ship reloads new passengers and turns around, making Duluth the first stop on the return itinerary.

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Bob Dylan and outdoor adventure remain the two top draws for international media and visitors. In recent months, Visit Duluth has hosted travel writers, influencers and media/TV from Australia, China, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. Stories have started running and will continue well into 2019, shining the international spotlight on our city, hopefully spurring travelers to experience Duluth for themselves.

Promoting Duluth as a convention destination at traditional trade shows yields high returns, and in 2019 several new initiatives will be added to the mix. During Connect FAITH, Visit Duluth will host a client-appreciation event designed specifically for faith-based meeting planners. In addition, Visit Duluth is attending Haute Dokimazo, an innovative, participant-driven show that provides attendees the opportunity to solve business challenges in an “unconference” format. Combining tried and true methods with dynamic new strategies is key to success.

With 55 conventions scheduled next year, meetings make a vital contribution to tourism, generating more than $40 million. The timing of when the bulk of this business occurs provides an even bigger impact. Conventions are often mid-week when there’s lower visitor demand compared to weekends.

Sports marketing is another critical sales effort. It targets tournaments and team competitions ranging from collegiate-level events to youth sports. Visit Duluth posted a 16 percent increase in this sector year over year in 2018, with that trend expected to continue in the new year.

2019 will be a solid year for tourism, and Visit Duluth is committed to keeping this industry healthy and thriving for the benefit of all.

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Anna Tanski is president and CEO of Visit Duluth.

Related Topics: TOURISM
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