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Tourism's Impacts Minimized with Management

Minnesota, where visitors turn blue with envy.

Sure, it's cold here…but even an Alberta clipper doesn't keep people from visiting and coming back. It doesn't matter what position the Earth is in its annual trek around the sun, it's tourist season along the North Shore and around Minnesota's biggest lakes. Ice-fishing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, and skiing fuse into fishing opener, hiking, canoeing, and sight-seeing.

The "Hospitality Industry" (a.k.a. tourism) generates economic security throughout the United States (see sidebar), including Lake Superior's North Shore, but as Glenn Kreag, recreation and tourism specialist for Minnesota Sea Grant points out in a new fact sheet, smart community planners recognize that a thriving tourist industry must be managed.

"The art of creating a tourism industry is keeping a healthy community culture alive even though residents can sometimes feel outnumbered," said Kreag. "Leaders in a robust tourism industry balance the opportunities and concerns of the community and its visitors. Creative and well-thought-out strategies for developing tourism can enhance both the lives of residents and visitors."

A Welcome Ticket? Ya sure, you betch-ya.

"Welcome to Duluth! As you are a guest, you are NOT receiving a parking ticket even though the meter tag shows red. You are now in Northeastern Minnesota where hospitality is a fact and friendliness a way of life." (Wording from Duluth's "Welcome Ticket.")

Tourist in Duluth's Canal Park.

A tourist strolls along the wintery storefronts of Canal Park in Duluth, MN.

Duluth police sometimes issue Welcome Tickets instead of parking tickets to vehicles with out-of-state license plates. Minnesota nice, eh? According to Terry Mattson, executive director of the Duluth Convention and Visitors Bureau, Duluth is a model of successful and creative tourism development. Duluth tourism has grown over 25 percent in the last three years and has turned into an estimated $400 million-a-year industry. Such economic activity saves area homeowners conservatively $400 on property taxes each year and gives them access to amenities such as restaurants, museums, and parks which would not exist without tourism. More importantly, it provides jobs.

The Canal Park and Park Point areas in Duluth illuminate both the positive and not-so-positive affects of tourism. In Canal Park, shops, restaurants, and hotels host thousands of tourists each year.

Naomi Byers and Chip Stewart.

"It's how we make our living," said Naomi Byers, sales assistant at Sivertson's Gallery. Melanie Bonney, the gallery manager adds, "In winter, residents tend to reclaim the area, but in summer visitors are our main customers. They come for the lake. While they are here they buy the work of local artists to remind them of their trip."

"I don't even know who is a tourist and who isn't. I hear people talk about tourists but people come here all year. We don't distinguish between them," said Chip Stewart, owner of Amazing Grace, a Canal Park cafe and bakery that thrives in the basement of a renovated furniture factory built in 1909. Like other buildings in the area, tourism allowed this building, which is on the national register of historic places, to take on a new life as the multi-use DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace.

Once in a while, Duluthians might grumble about parking problems and congestion in Canal Park but they accept tourism as one of the three "T's" sustaining the region ? timber, taconite, and tourism. Residents on the Park Point side of the Aerial Lift Bridge, learn to stay on "The Point" or to plan around shipping schedules, and expect to crawl through relatively thick tourist traffic when they leave their peninsula in summer. Even so, they often speak prosaically about tourism.

"This is a world-class, pristine wilderness gateway which is as exotic as Cairo or the Alps," said Marty Weintruab, a composer residing on Park Point. "A $500 dollar vacation here would cost $2000 or more in a place like Nantucket. Some people get upset about the noise and the density of folks but it comes with the territory. Any viable and sustainable industry? is worth the associated investment in infrastructure."

Kinnan Stauber, chair of the Park Point Community Club's environmental committee, works to mitigate the impact of tourism on the environment. "The number of people using Park Point really affects erosion," she said. "With money from a Coastal Zone Management grant and the Rotary Club of Duluth we are working on minimizing beach and dune erosion."

Citizens have created board walks and are improving signs that inform and direct pedestrians. Each spring the committee plants trees and grasses to stabilize the dunes.

Duluth's Canal Park area.

Duluth's Canal Park Area. Courtesy of the Duluth Convention and Visitors Bureau

Land of Sky Blue Waters

People flock to this area for its open, ruggedly natural environment. Lori Mikkelson and her family of four visited the North Shore frequently last year from their home in Isanti, Minnesota. "I love coming to Duluth and the North Shore," she said, "We come mainly because of the lake and to hike and camp. We like exploring the parks along the Shore and usually spend some time in Canal Park."

Unlike most communities, which thrive on business-related travel, only about 25 percent of Duluth's visitors attend meetings and conventions. Increasing convention traffic is spurring the construction of additional convention facilities, parking ramps, and hotels near Lake Superior. Last year marked the opening of the Great Lakes Aquarium and this year Bayfront Park is getting a make-over into a multi-million-dollar festival ground.

But in Catch-22 fashion, more people inspire more and larger developments that can damage the area's original appeal. "One of the potential hazards of making a place attractive to visitors is the dilution of local culture," said Kreag. "You can lose the culture or take advantage of it by creating a market for it."

For research-based information on tourism impacts and further discussion of this issue, you can order a free copy of Kreag's fact sheet, The Impacts of Tourism. See item T 13 in the tourism and recreation section of our free on-line publications.

Photo of construction in canal park.

One of the impacts of tourism is hotel construction.

The US Travel and Tourism industry is...

America's Second Largest* Service Export

  • $95 billion** spent in U.S. by 48.5 million international visitors and

  • $81 billion spent outside U.S. by 58.4 million American travelers creates a

  • $14 billion in balance of trade surplus for the U.S.

One of America's Largest Employers

  • 18 million total jobs, thats 1 of every 8 people in the U.S.

  • 7.7 million people directly employed

  • 10.3 million people indirectly employed

  • $159 billion in payroll income directly generated

America's Third Largest*** Retail Sales Industry

  • $582 billion total expenditures ****

  • $93 billion tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments

  • $906 more in taxes would be paid by each U.S. household without tax revenue generated by tourism.

*Largest is business services

**Includes $21 billion in spending by international travelers on U.S. air carriers for transactions made outside the U.S.

***Largest is automotive dealers and second largest is food stores

****Forecast 2000

Sources: Tourism Works for America 2001, Tenth Edition, U.S. Dept. of Commerce ITA/Tourism Industries.

By Sharon Moen
April 2001

Return to April 2001 Seiche

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