Warmer weather is around the corner. That means it’s time to plan spring and summer trips. If you are making plans for travel across the state this year, you might have company. When it comes to hospitality in Minnesota, the future’s so bright. Such was the theme when leaders from across Minnesota’s hospitality industry convened last week in Duluth for the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference. For attendees, there was much to be excited about.
For those keeping score, the hospitality economy in our wonderful state is back in full form following some difficult years of the Great Recession. By many measures, 2014 looks to break record travel levels set in 2007. Tourism sales in Minnesota reached $12.5 billion during 2012, which is equivalent to more than $34 million a day that is spent in counties and communities across the entire state. Another sign that tourism stands on solid ground can be seen in job figures. As of December 2013, the nation’s travel industry has recovered 99 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, putting it just 5,000 shy of the pre-recession levels, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association. By comparison, the rest of the economy has recovered just 86 percent of lost jobs. Here in Minnesota, that means nearly 245,000 full- and part-time jobs are directly linked to tourism—that’s 11 percent of all private sector jobs. Certainly cause for celebration.
Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism at this year’s annual tourism conference comes from what Explore Minnesota Tourism Director John Edman dubbed the “Minnesota Miracle” in his presentation to the group: the fact that the Legislature passed a 67 percent increase in the organization’s operating budget—increasing from $8.3 million to just short of $14 million. While the funding isn’t the $100 million that Visit Florida is asking its own Legislature to pass for 2014-15 budget, Minnesota’s increase will allow the state to market its offerings like never before. Already a new ad campaign is in the works, building upon the “More to Explore” theme but based on research data for specific markets, with more visual emphasis. In the coming months, Explore Minnesota will also be updating more mobile options, as more Americans now use smartphones than computers.
Is it correct to state, “the future’s so bright” for Minnesota tourism? I’d say so. And to borrow from another ‘80s pop tune: Things can only get better.