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trends in tourism visitation - duluth, minnesota 1980-1994

by Glenn Kreag and Jennifer Moe

Tourism is an important part of the economy of Duluth, MN. Since 1980, the Minnesota Sea Grant Program has tracked the visitation at several of Duluth's tourist attractions and published it in the Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota Visitor Statistics Abstracts. After 1990, the abstract was no longer published.

Click on an attraction to see the number of visitors and monthy market share.


Starting in the mid 1980s, the City of Duluth began to upgrade existing tourist attractions and develop new ones. In particular, the city supported expansion of the Spirit Mountain Ski Area and the Lake Superior Zoo. New publicly-supported attractions include the William A. Irvin ore boat, the Lake Superior Lakewalk multi-use trail, the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Bayfront Festival Park, skywalks and decorative brick street and sidewalk improvements downtown, and major infrastructure improvements in Canal Park to support the development of tourism and entertainment business development.

Hotels, restaurants, recreational services and retail shopping have grown significantly in the Canal Park and Fitger's Mall areas. Fond-du-Luth Gaming Casino operates in downtown Duluth. The North Shore Scenic Railroad is a joint public-private partnership. New festivals and events are being added to the complement of attractions in Duluth. The Bayfront Blues Festival, the Port of Duluth Tall Ship Festival, and Taste North Festival were heavily attended in 1994.


As a result of this development, there has been significant growth in tourism business. The Total Number of Tourists Table (#1) shows a steady rise in visitor numbers except for 1992-93 when cold summer weather and flooding problems in other parts of Minnesota cut travel statewide. In spite of lower visitor numbers in the last two years, tourism spending has continued its steady increase (Duluth Tourism Spending Table (#2)) since 1982 reaching an all-time high in 1993 of nearly $110 million. Similarly, hotel visitor nights (Duluth Hotel Occupancy Table (#3)) have increased; a total of 38% since 1980 and 59% from the 1982 low. Nineteen-ninety-four figures for Tables 1-3 are not available, however above-average summer weather caused annual visitation to rebound. Estimates by local hotel and tourist officials indicate that total tourism in Duluth was again at a record level.


Visitation figures for various attractions (Table: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) provide a varied picture. Canal Park Marine Museum (The Canal Park Visitors Center Table (#4)) has been one measure of general visitor activity for the city since it is a free attraction. Recent declines however, may be due in part to other nearby free activities, particularly the Lakewalk and festivals and events at Bayfront Park. There are no measures of visitation to these attractions but both are heavily used by residents and visitors.

A large increase in visitors to the Spirit Mountain Ski Area (Spirit Mountain Ski Area Table (#5)) is the result of expansion and the successful promotion of low cost annual ski passes. The Lake Superior Zoo's (Lake Superior Zoological Garden Table (#6)) increases are partly due to year-round counting begun in 1989 and expansion projects. The zoo continues construction and expansion projects, which, along with cold weather, were primarily responsible for reduced visitation in 1992-93.

Some attractions have seen a gradual decline in total visitors. Some feel this is because of the many new attractions, festivals, and events that compete for visitors' time. This may be especially true in the peak summer and fall months when many options are available. It may also indicate that attractions must make continual efforts to stay competitive. Managers must be innovative in finding new markets and aggressive in upgrading the quality and variety of their facilities and services.


Overall, there is no doubt about tourism's significance to Duluth. In addition to economic activity that is produced by attracting visitors, the city's waterfront and its service base have been enhanced by tourism developments. The enhancements are a matter of pride to local residents. They have also created a new reputation and image for Duluth, which is looked on by some as a model of a desirable city in which to visit and live.

Tourism can be an important part of the local economy but good planning is necessary to make it compatible with other community elements. Residents should not feel that their city is being "taken over" by visitors. There are limits to how much tourism should expand as a part of the total local economy in order to keep it from becoming perceived negatively by residents. Maintaining an awareness of, and responding to local attitudes about Duluth's tourism industry is important to keep the support for tourism strong within the community.

List of Tables


Other tourism pages:

Estimated Economic Impact of Recreational Fishing
     on MN Waters of Lake Superior
Hypothermia: The Cold Facts (video)
Minnesota's North Shore Snowmobile Trail
Superior Pursuit: Facts about the Greatest Great Lake
Survival in Cold Water: Hypothermia Prevention
The Impacts of Tourism
Trends in Tourism Visitation

Related Seiche articles:

Community Concerns Explored Along the North Shore
Noise Pollution in Ears of Beholder
Rip Currents Hit Home
Tourism's Impacts Minimized with Management
Why Love Lakes?
return to the tourism index
related tourism links page


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 www.seagrant.umn.edu /tourism/trends.html modified November 18, 2009