MINNETONKA, Minn. — Tourism is usually a big business that brings billions of dollars to Minnesota's economy, but when the pandemic hit, tourism nearly ground to a halt.
Now, the state is ready to get folks back to Minnesota in a big way.
More than 250 business owners and travel leaders met in Minnetonka on Tuesday for the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference.
For many of the attendees, it was their first time meeting the state’s new tourism director, Lauren Bennett McGinty.
McGinty took the job during a difficult time in the industry.
"The industry has lost $12 billion since the start of the pandemic,” McGinty said during her opening speech.
For perspective, McGinty says Minnesota’s tourism industry normally brings in about $16 billion a year.
"To lose that much over two years is pretty substantial,” McGinty said.
To bring that money back, McGinty wants to put more of the budget into social media, including out-of-state marketing.
"We've really invested some time and energy in marketing into the immediate five state area, as well as the larger region, Colorado, St. Louis, Chicago, and Winnipeg as well,” McGinty says.
Her plan is to also come up with new ways to encourage travelers and Minnesotans to share their travel stories online because their research shows word of mouth is often more effective than advertising.
"I believe that we can be on all the travel top 10 lists, as well as every traveler's bucket list,” McGinty says.
Her long-term plan is to lean on business owners and travel leaders to share their insight into what has worked in the past and what needs to change.
Explore Minnesota will then analyze that data to identify growth opportunities, and then market the industry to a new audience.
"We're really looking for travelers from anywhere who want to experience something different than their home state, because we do have things to offer that you can't really find anywhere else,” McGinty says.
While they are expecting a big boost in travel and tourism this summer with all of the pent up demand, the key will be to keep that momentum going through the fall and winter in the coming years.
McGinty and the rest of Explore Minnesota say they’re working to rebuild the travel and tourism industry so that it’s prepared for a new generation of tourists.
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