Winjum's Shady Acres

Explore Minnesota and local Chamber of Commerce officials reported a strong summer tourism season, with the number of Minnesota resorts increasing after decades of decline. Rice County has several lakeside resorts, including Roberds Lake Resort and Winjum’s Shady Acres, above. (Daily News file photo)

A recent report from Explore Minnesota revealed that the state’s tourism industry had an excellent summer and that Minnesota’s lodging industry is optimistic about the near-term future.

Out of the survey of more than 300 lodging business owners, more than half said they were pleased with their financial status heading into the fall, and 42% reported increased occupancy. With the fall tourism season around the corner, 28% of lodging business owners expect to see increased occupancy, compared to 15% who do not.

Chambers of Commerce in Northfield and Faribault have also seen hefty increases in out of town guests.

The robust economy has also helped to increase the number of lodging owners. Over the last year, the total number of Minnesota resorts increased from 792 to 799, according to Explore Minnesota’s figures.

That increase reverses a decades-long trend of decline which nearly halved the state’s total number of resorts, even as revenue increased for many resorts. In addition, Explore Minnesota’s numbers show that the number of motels and campgrounds grew slightly over the same period.

Across Minnesota, the tourism industry brings in $15.3 billion a year and attracts more than 73 million travelers annually. The industry also employs 270,000 workers in the state, roughly 11 percent of Minnesota’s private sector workforce.

Robust local growth

Locally, the Minne-roadtrip partnership between the Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna Chambers of Commerce and Tourism has focused on attracting day-trippers to the area by publicizing local events and attractions. Established in 2016, the partnership uses pooled advertising funds to advertise in various publications and promote area tourism at travel expos throughout the upper Midwest.

Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson says Faribault’s tourism-related industries have had a banner year. According to Johnson, Faribault’s lodging tax brought in a record amount over the first six months of the year.

“It’s especially impressive in Faribault especially given our limited capacity,” Johnson said. “When see numbers like this, we know we’re doing really well.”

Both communities collect lodging taxes, which are transferred to the city and on to the tourism bureau to be used to promote that city and its sites. Both cities have agreements with their respective chamber of commerce to operate the tourism bureau.

Johnson said the Faribault Chamber has worked with local businesses and utilized Faribault’s proximity to I-35 to bring tourism to town. The Faribault Chamber partnered with Faribault Woolen Mill and 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers to place a billboard along I-35 near the city, and recently added another billboard near Albert Lea through a partnership with downtown Faribault's The Cheese Cave.

Northfield Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Lisa Peterson also reported a significant increase in Northfield’s occupancy. The opening of the new Fairfield Inn & Suites gave the city an additional 79 hotel rooms last year, helping the city to collect an additional 20% in lodging taxes.

“Previously, we were giving away room nights to Faribault, Lakeville and surrounding communities,” said Peterson. “People are now staying here.”

Over the last few years, the Northfield Area Chamber has implemented a robust digital marketing campaign in an attempt to draw visitors from the Upper Midwest. The city has also tried to capitalize on Minnesota's connection to Jesse James to increase tourism from that state.

Peterson said that the campaign, coupled with advertising through more traditional outlets, has helped the number of online requests for visitor information to increase by about 100 per year.

“That’s pretty significant,” she said.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew.

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