As Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, and a member of the Explore Minnesota Tourism (EMT) council and chair of its public policy committee, I want to respond to a number of inaccuracies in the June 10 letter regarding charging for Minnesota highway maps.
The Welcome Center on Highway 371 is operated by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, in partnership with MnDOT. We also operate centers in Pequot Lakes and Crosslake. Chamber member businesses contributed almost $600,000 to fund our portion of the Highway 371 building. This facility is a tremendous asset to the community and our friendly staff serves almost 100,000 visitors a year in person, via phone, or Internet. We support our share of the operating costs through sales in our gift shop and on-site advertising. Since we have to purchase Minnesota State maps, we ask our visitors to pay $1. EMT, the state’s tourism promotion office, does not charge for official state highway maps it distributes at the 10 travel information centers it operates; individual maps also can be ordered without charge from EMT.
The legislation introduced in 2012 to increase funding for Explore Minnesota Tourism through a portion of the car rental sales tax did not pass, and in fact, funding for EMT was reduced by 5 percent, and is 16 percent lower than it was in 2001. The current budget for EMT is $8.4 million, which ranks 30th among state tourism budgets. Tourism is a $11.3 billion industry in the state supporting 235,000 jobs, and the EMT public policy committee is meeting this week to establish a plan to help pass legislation to make Minnesota more competitive.
Thank you to the generous businesses in the Brainerd lakes area that support the Chamber’s tourism marketing programs, and a warm welcome to our summer visitors. We look forward to serving you in our centers, via phone, or online at explorebrainerdlakes.com. If you’re seeking statewide information, contact Explore Minnesota Tourism for a variety of travel information, including free highway maps, by calling 888-TOURISM or visiting exploreminnesota.com.
Lisa Paxton, CEO
Brainerd Lakes Chamber