Bright spots in an iffy Minnesota tourism season

Minnesota’s summer tourism season was mixed at best. But if your business was in outfitting, resorts or camping, the data we’re seeing and stories we’re hearing indicate you had a solid year.

The best news seems to be coming near the Canadian border. Recent reports from sources in MPR’s Public Insight Network jibe with what folks were telling us in August: lower cost family vacations would do well while big resorts, Twin Cities hotels and facilities relying on conventions or big groups would have it tougher.

Jennifer Gelo and her husband Gordon own Sandy Point Lodge and Resort in Kabetogama, MN, on the edge of Voyaguer’s National Park. She wrote us recently about a banner season:

Our Kabetogama resort saw record business this year with increases in lodging and our restaurant use. The last three years have been our best in the 15 years we have owned Sandy Point Lodge. This year was our best ever.

While she doesn’t have an absolute answer why, Gelo notes that their repeat business rate is going very well and that the location is a great draw for walleye fishing. They’re also reinvesting profits back into the resort, “which is a source of positive guest feedback.”

Gelo’s observations match up with what we heard a few weeks ago from Steve Piragis, another Network source who runs an outfitting business in Ely. He wrote:

Ely has been busting at the seams in July and August…This season represents the largest percentage of growth in outfitting we have ever experienced in 30 years. It’s families, fishermen, young and old all finding some reason to experience or re experience the virtues of wilderness canoeing this season.

The state’s tourism group, Explore Minnesota, says half the 300 business responding to its end-of-the-summer survey reported occupancy and revenue were down this summer. One in four reported business was up.

Campgrounds fared well as did fishing, hiking, festivals and other low-cost activities and state parks saw an increase in visitors, the agency said, adding that large resorts saw a downturn in bookings by corporate groups and conferences and occupancy and revenue fell at most hotels, especially in the Twin Cities.

Overall, the state’s leisure and hospitality business is still struggling in the recession. Unemployment data released today showed the sector down 5,300 jobs over the past year.

Gelo writes:

While our business seems to be going well, we do not plan to rest and expect this good fortune to continue on its own.

We have decided this year to take a percentage of our proceeds and give back to some non-profits in our community. We hope this will help spread our good fortune to others and strengthen the community.

Meanwhile, she adds, “there’s that bathroom remodel job, the roofing plans, the garden expansion, and new rental boat and motor — you get the idea!”


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Have a view on Minnesota’s tourism business? Please post below or click here and tell us what you’re seeing.

Also, check out the map below to read what others in our Network are telling us about spending and saving in this economy.

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