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
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.
TOURISM GROWTH IN DULUTH
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
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