As traffic picks up and Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning to the summer season, the state’s forecast is for continued moderate growth in Minnesota tourism.
For the Brainerd lakes area, summer tourism is a major economic engine.
Most lodging and camping businesses expect this season to be as good as or better than last summer, Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism office reported.
“Overall, travel spending is expected to increase somewhat this year, providing tourism-related businesses a third year of gradual recovery from recession lows of 2009,” Minnesota Tourism reported.
Phil and Coni Trusty recently joined the ranks in the tourism and seasonal resort business by buying Don and Mayva Kottke’s Crow Wing Lake Campground this spring. The campground, with 40 seasonal and 60 daily campsites, south of Brainerd just off Highway 371. Don and Mayva Kottke purchased the campground in 1970 looking for a business near Brainerd that would provide a nice environment to raise a family.
That’s what attracted Phil Trusty as well. He was looking for a business opportunity where he could work for himself and spend more time with his wife and two daughters, Amanda, 7, and Rachel, 9.
Trusty actually worked at the campground when he was in high school and still lives nearby.
“It’s been part of my life growing up,” Trusty said, checking in at the campground office after a morning of mowing. “What a great opportunity to buy a business just down the road from your own house. I look at it as great opportunity for me and the wife and my kids and to spend time together.”
When full, the campground has 450 adults and children as guests. They have residents who arrive in the spring and stay all summer. For the past 41 years, the Kottkes have taken care of guests through good economic times and bad. Even when the economy was tough, Trusty said people were still looking for a chance to get away and the campground provided a place for a needed break for them.
The Kottkes have stayed on to help with the transition. Mayva Kottke said that has been a welcome part of the ownership change as it is hard to retire.
“We raised our kids here so it’s hard to just walk away,” she said. “So I’m very thankful and grateful I don’t have to. I can stay here and help.”
But Kottke said she doesn’t have to take on the worries that come with ownership.
“To have young blood in here is wonderful,” Kottke said. “We have known (Trusty) since he was a little boy. ... If I could pick somebody for my park I could not have picked better because they care about it.”
Kottke said a main worry when they decided to retire was the land wouldn’t stay a campground. “That just makes my heart sing,” she said.
Kottke said her best advice for someone starting out in the industry is to do their best and everything else will work out.
Trusty said he’s benefited from the Kottkes staying on as well. “It’s a good part of the opportunity,” Trusty said. “With them still here, we can get both feet wet and not go all the way to our neck. We can look to them for advice.”
The Kottkes also have experience with trends in a seasonal business with a seasonal income. This year is ahead of last year, Kottke said, adding she’s seeing a lot of people book four-night and week stays.
A pre-season survey by Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state tourism office, 39 percent of lodging and camping businesses expect higher occupancy this summer, and 46 percent expect occupancy similar to last year; 44 percent expect an increase in revenue for the summer season.
These results are more positive than they were in a similar survey two years ago, when tourism businesses began to see an uptick in visitors. More than 370 businesses completed this year’s survey, including hotels and motels, resorts, B&Bs, campgrounds and vacation home rentals.
“There’s a sense of renewed optimism in the travel industry,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, in a news release. “As consumers gain more confidence in the economy, they are more likely to take leisure trips. And the continuing trend of vacationing close to home really benefits Minnesota.”
The Explore Minnesota ad campaign targets neighboring states and Minnesota, encouraging travelers to find “More to Explore” at nearby destinations. The tourism office reported value-conscious consumers are looking for affordable getaways. Explore Minnesota’s state travel website features a deals section where consumers can find special values and packages.
In a new public/private partnership, Explore Minnesota Tourism also just launched an initiative, Pedal Minnesota, promoting bicycling in Minnesota.
The U.S. Travel Association is forecasting a 1.5 percent increase nationally in domestic travel in 2012, with a 3.2 percent increase in travel spending. This follows two years of somewhat higher increases in travel, as the tourism industry began to climb back after two years of reduced travel (2008 and 2009) during the recession.