DEERWOOD - Gas prices, border security, even airline merger talks provide issues for the tourism and hospitality business.
Kent Gustafson, educator and tourism specialist at the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, touched on all aspects during his keynote speech on sustaining tourism in the lakes area. Gustafson spoke Wednesday at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber's Tourism Summit at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge near Deerwood.
Gustafson said travelers surveyed in 2007 were asked at what point gas prices affected their travel decisions. The tipping point was $3.50 per gallon.
"Guess what folks? We're there," Gustafson said.
Brainerd Lakes Chamber staff member Joan Rosenow (left) and Gretchen Ennis, tourism director, set out promotional materials for the chamber's Waves of Welcome campaign at the Tourism Summit at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge near Deerwood.
Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
People may roll gas prices right into the cost of their trips, but Gustafson said if prices rise to $3.75, $4 and $5 per gallon that may change. The tourism center has profiles of travelers in the region, comparing summer and fall visitors and what they are looking for in types of activities and length of stays. Word of mouth is still a driving factor in finding a vacation site. Not surprising, the Internet has jumped into second place as people look for information and for the ability to book rooms online.
Sustainable tourism is a popular idea, Gustafson said. An earlier segment at the summit looked at ways businesses could save energy costs and gain an ability for promotion as a "green" business. Mark Blaiser, Minnesota Waste Wise, provided steps to reduce waste and save. Representatives from lodging establishments reported they do get requests from guests regarding recycling options. Gustafson said the potential is there to gain an improved customer perception and perhaps attract new clientele. A Minnesota Travel Green Task Force provided a report and recommendations on the subject.
Tourists in Minnesota are split between Minnesotans and those who come from outside the state. Gustafson said a process Explore Minnesota Tourism is looking at touches on images the two groups have of the state. Different perceptions could point to marketing ideas. When asked to come up with images evoked by the state, non-Minnesotans listed the Mall of America, Minneapolis and the North Shore. They tended to think of the state in terms of activities and attractions but without a specific locale.
Minnesotans were more attuned to specific regions and listed natural beauty. In terms of border security, Gustafson said it will have an effect on Minnesota.
"About half of our international visitation is from Canada," Gustafson said.
Gustafson echoed the idea of tourism offering an experience to people. Earlier in the day, Dr. Shawn Roberts, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and member of Minnesota Off Road Cyclists, Jenny Smith, owner of Cycle Path and Paddle and Tim Wegner, International Mountain Bike Association, all spoke about the emerging tourism offering in the lakes area's backyard as trails are developed in the Cuyuna State Recreation Area. Participants at the summit noted part of the marketing effort should be focused right in the Brainerd lakes area so people know these recreation opportunities are minutes away and how to get to them.
With the weak dollar, Gustafson pointed to a growing group of potential international customers in India, Russia and China, who are looking for places to go and have money to spend.
Gustafson ended his talk by asking what are the tourism time bombs or challenges for the Brainerd lakes area and how will it adapt.
"I think if you can answer that question, future tourism summits here will take on a whole new meaning."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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