As the peak tourism season wrapped up Labor Day weekend, Minnesota's tourism attractions reported spotty performance that was hurt by a sluggish national economy and lingering fears of terrorism.
"It turned out it was a pretty good summer, but unusual," said state tourism director John Edman. "Before the July 4th weekend, a lot of resorts and communities were advertising vacancies. People used to book that months in advance."
In addition to a skittish economy, businesses and government agencies were booking fewer meetings, Edman said, and resort owners are trying to make up for that lost business one family at a time.
At Madden's Resort near Brainerd, "Our family-vacation business was up very solidly over last year," said Bill Crumley, marketing director. August's numbers alone are about 9 percent higher than in 2002, he said.
"We literally have people calling from their cars on Fridays that they're coming up, and that was unheard of" in past years, he said.
Jeffrey Wild, general manager of Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria said family vacation business has been "fantastic," better even than last year's record. But government meeting business has declined, he said, apparently because of perceptions that resorts cost more.
"That's ridiculous," he said. In the spring and fall, "We offer cheaper rates ... than the Twin Cities places do."
A recent unscientific survey of 231 lodging businesses by Edman's office found that 43 percent reported higher-than-last-year occupancy from June through most of August, while 31 percent said business was down and 26 percent said it was the same.
Here are reports from other tourism-dependent attractions:
--The Minnesota Twins are fighting for a playoff spot, but home attendance continues to trail last year's, when the team won its division in a walk. Club President Dave St. Peter said the Twins still hope to surpass last year's 1.9 million, but that effort has been hurt by the Twins' sporadic play and a still-recovering economy. early season competition of the Minnesota Wild hockey team, subpar interleague opponents and scheduling conflicts with the fishing opener and Mother's Day hurt too, he said.
--The Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul said attendance from June through Aug. 26 was about 160,000 compared with 200,000 for the same period last year. Spokeswoman Janine Hanson said reasons could include heavy attendance at the museum's Vikings exhibit earlier this year, the general economy and good weather that lured people outside.
--Minnesota's 68 state parks report that attendance exceeded last year's figures in March, April and May. But June and July figures trailed year-ago figures. One factor could be the increase in park fees, from $20 to $25 for an annual permit and $4 to $7 for daily admissions. Even so, spokeswoman Carmen Diestler said officials expect attendance to reach 8 million for the year, about the same as in 2002.
--At Underwater Adventures, the aquarium at the Mall of America in Bloomington, the summer pattern was different. Co-owner Todd Peterson said attendance was soft in June but has improved recently -- up by double-digit percentages in August. The attraction expected its biggest crowds this holiday weekend. But the impact of the 2001 terrorist attacks continues to dampen international travel to places such as the megamall, he said.
"How could anyone foresee that and set their sights low enough to accommodate that?" he said. "We're not where we dreamed we would have been."
--Minneapolis was teeming with Shriners, Episcopalians and members of the United Church of Christ in July. Their conventions boosted occupancy at 22 city hotels to 76.2 percent of capacity, a three-year high for the month, said Bill Deef, vice president of tourism for the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
--Duluth's tourism sales-tax receipts were 5.2 percent higher during the first six months of this year than they were in 2002.
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