Updated: June 02, 2021 06:45 PM
Created: June 02, 2021 06:19 PM
Just as the Mesabi Miner passed under the Lift Bridge with blue skies overhead and a comfortable 65 degrees by the lake, Sen. Amy Klobuchar arrived at the Duluth harbor to talk tourism.
"Duluth is open for business. We want the whole state to come up and enjoy this beautiful lake," Klobuchar said.
She expects an "incredible resurgence" in the hospitality industry this year.
"We know there were certain resorts because they ... just happened to be situated differently, that did OK through this. But a lot of our more vertical hotels had more trouble because it was elevator access and the like," she said. "And that's what we want to have come back now."
Anna Tanski, executive director of Visit Duluth, said the city typically gets 6.7 million visitors a year. She's expecting the 2021 numbers to be close to that.
"We know what Duluth looks like without tourism. We know what northern Minnesota looks like without tourism. And we have all come together, in our partners across the Iron Range and up the North Shore, and have really collaborated over the last year in new, innovative ways that we never did before," Tanski said.
The City of Duluth is keeping a close eye on tourism tax revenue. Comparing April 2021 to April 2020, when Minnesota had a Stay at Home order in place, some hotel/motel tax revenues are up 604.4 percent. Year-to-date, the same hotel/motel 2021 revenues are 24.7 percent higher than 2020.
"For residents and neighborhoods, tourism is a really terrific asset for us," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said. "It means that we have world-class recreation, restaurants, hotels, trails that other people get to stop and visit for a little bit but we get to have year-round."
But the tourism bounceback won't be without challenges. Sen. Klobuchar said she has heard from northern Minnesota businesses who are having trouble hiring.
"We don't have enough workers in some of our areas in Greater Minnesota to support what I think is going to be an influx of tourism," she said.
She said she's brought it up to the White House and her fellow senators. She feels opening the Canadian border might help, as would funding housing through the infrastructure bill and workforce training.
The Brand USA Extension Act could also help continue to attract tourists. Klobuchar cosponsored the bill with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). It allows the United States to advertise tourism in other countries. The bill currently in the Senate would extend it until 2027.
Tanski said Visit Duluth has used resources that came from that bill.
"Our website page that is part of Brand USA is translated into 14 languages," Tanski said. "We have a very strong international presence."
On Monday, city administration will present to the Duluth City Council about the American Rescue Plan dollars they expect to get and where they can potentially go. But Mayor Larson said she does not expect it will be able to "backfill" last year's tourism losses.
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