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A photo of Lake Superior's shoreline.

The North Shore of Lake Superior, with its many state parks and resorts, has long been a favorite tourist destination in Minnesota.

More than a cottage industry: U center aids tourism in Minnesota

U center aids tourism in Minnesota

By Rick Moore

Originally published on July 4, 2004

With the sultry days of summer settling in and the long, Fourth of July holiday weekend in progress, peak travel season has arrived in the Upper Midwest. And while some Minnesota residents may be focused on heading out of town, or maybe out of state, there is an ongoing effort to bring people here to explore--and to part with a few dollars along the way.

Tourism is a whopping $8.9 billion industry annually in Minnesota, meaning that gross receipts average about $24 million a day. And since 1986, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has been working to bolster that industry. The center conducts tourism research and provides education and outreach programs for the tourism industry, community groups, and students.

While a national association had predicted that spending for travel would increase by 3 to 4 percent this year, the early returns appear even rosier. "The industry is reporting increased numbers, and we're thrilled at that, of course," says Ingrid Schneider, director of the Tourism Center, which is housed in the U's College of Natural Resources and partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Schneider says that lodging occupancy rates in the state are up 4.5 percent and visits to travel information centers are up 3.8 percent. National park visits, i.e., Voyageurs National Park and Pipestone National Monument, are up by 9.1 percent, she says.

Tourism generates $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue, and tax revenues gained through tourism help pay for our roads, airports, schools, libraries, and parks.

More than 24 million people travel in Minnesota each year to places ranging from the North Shore of Lake Superior to the Mall of America in Bloomington. Almost half (45 percent) of those vacation travelers are Minnesota residents; the other 55 percent are from other states and countries, and they bring with them new revenues to Minnesota.

Tourism generates jobs and revenue not only at hotels and resorts, but also at restaurants, shops, car rental companies, gas stations, airlines, museums and theaters, amusement parks, and other recreation facilities.

In addition, Schneider says tourism revenues help a host of other businesses, including printing, construction, food processing, and medical. And tax revenues gained through tourism help pay for our roads, airports, schools, libraries, and parks. Tourism generates $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Despite the revenue generated, "We are challenged by a very low [state] budget for tourism," says Schneider. In fact, effective July 1, 2004, the Minnesota Office of Tourism became "Explore Minnesota Tourism," a quasi private organization.

The U's Tourism Center is currently involved with a number of projects, including conducting an assessment to gauge the education needs-formal and informal-of the travel industry; launching a new initiative with the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce to recognize the importance of tourism on tribal lands; and preparing for a workshop this fall on planning and marketing wildlife-viewing events.

The center is also proud of its affiliation with a new degree program in resource-based tourism through the College of Natural Resources. The program had its first two graduates this past spring.

This story also contains information from the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

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